All 16 Parliamentary debates in the Lords on 26th Feb 2024

Grand Committee

Monday 26th February 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Monday 26 February 2024

Arrangement of Business

Monday 26th February 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Announcement
15:45
Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Pitkeathley) (Lab)
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My Lords, good afternoon. I remind your Lordships that, as normal, if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.

Local Elections (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Order 2024

Monday 26th February 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
15:45
Moved by
Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Local Elections (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Order 2024.

Lord Caine Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Caine) (Con)
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This statutory instrument, and the Representation of the People (Postal Vote Handling etc.) (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2024, were laid before your Lordships House on 10 January. They flow from the Elections Act 2022 and deliver on the Government’s manifesto commitment to stop “postal vote harvesting”: the dubious practice of collecting large numbers of postal votes to be returned by someone other than the voter to whom the ballot paper is issued. One instrument applies these measures to parliamentary and Northern Ireland Assembly elections in Northern Ireland, and the second to local elections. The equivalent measures for Great Britain have, of course, already been passed by this Parliament.

These statutory instruments will set a limit on how many postal votes any one individual can directly “hand in” to the returning officer, and complement other Elections Act provisions protecting the integrity of the absent vote process. These include banning political campaigners handling postal votes issued to another person, and ensuring the secrecy of absent voting. One of the instruments also contains some technical amendments relating to the changes to EU voting and candidacy rights, which I will touch upon later.

I will set out the measures related to limiting handing in postal votes in more detail. Currently, there are no restrictions on who may hand in postal votes and how many may be handed in by any single person, and no record of who has done so. This is not acceptable because it creates opportunities for unscrupulous individuals to undermine the integrity of postal voting. For example, voters could be coerced into handing over their unmarked ballot paper, or completed ballots could be tampered with out of sight of the voter before being returned. Even if they are acting legitimately, where individuals are seen to be handing in significant numbers of postal votes in one go, it can easily create the perception and suspicion of impropriety, which can be damaging to confidence in the electoral system. Retaining public confidence in the democratic systems of our country is, of course, critically important.

We are therefore intent on striking the right balance between being mindful of security, keeping the electoral process accessible and ensuring that confidence in our electoral systems is reinforced. Under these regulations, a person, in addition to their own postal vote, will be able to hand in the postal votes of up to five other electors, including any for whom they are acting as proxy. We consider this a reasonable limit that will support the integrity of postal voting.

In Northern Ireland, postal votes can be handed in at the electoral office. Unlike in Great Britain, where postal votes may be returned to the polling station, in Northern Ireland handing in postal votes at polling stations has never been permitted. This prohibition will not change as a result of these measures. A person handing in postal votes will be required to complete a form setting out basic information. Where the forms are not completed, those, and those in excess of the limit, apart from the person’s own, will be rejected. Any postal votes that have been left behind in the electoral office without an accompanying form, including those posted through or pushed under the front door, will not be counted as they will not have been returned in accordance with these requirements.

The new forms make these changes clear to the voter. In addition, the rules will be published as widely as possible by both the Electoral Commission and the chief electoral officer. After the poll, the chief electoral officer will, where possible, write to the persons whose postal votes have been rejected under these requirements to notify them that their vote was rejected, and the reasons for that.

The regulations before us today also make some small changes in relation to EU voting and candidacy rights. The Representation of the People (Franchise Amendment and Eligibility Review) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2023 implemented changes to the previously automatic right of EU citizens to vote and stand in elections. These regulations amend those 2023 regulations, so that where the eligibility of EU citizens to remain on the register has been reviewed, duplicate notices do not have to be issued.

Additionally, where an election is originally scheduled to take place before the franchise changes come into force, but following the death of a candidate the poll is rescheduled for a date after the changes, these measures will ensure that candidates and registered EU citizens remain eligible to stand and hold office at that poll.

I hope noble Lords agree that these measures are sensible safeguards against the potential abuse of absent voting and will reduce the opportunity for individuals to exploit the process. I hope that, following my setting out the details of these statutory instruments, the Committee will appreciate their careful and considered design for supporting absent voters. I beg to move.

Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his presentation of the facts concerning both statutory instruments. I declare an interest in two respects: first, as a member of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee of your Lordships’ House; and secondly, as a participant in elections in Northern Ireland for the past 43 years, either as a candidate or as a party worker. In all those elections, I was well aware that postal votes provided the elderly, the infirm, students and those on holiday with the opportunity to vote by post or by proxy. I welcome legislative efforts to protect postal and postal proxy voting arrangements, because there was no doubt that there was actual fraud, as I saw for myself. I saw it in the last election in which I was a participant, and whenever I failed to get re-elected as the MP for South Down. There is no doubt that electoral fraud took place in the polling place and through postal votes, through a large degree of postal vote harvesting. We saw people going into the electoral office with hundreds of completed ballot papers in the prescribed envelopes, duly certified by a family member.

I have always been afraid that there might be those who seek to steal postal votes, particularly from the infirm, in order to seek electoral advantage. We have heard many examples of that, so I am pleased that legislative action is being taken. However, what legislative action will the Government take to protect the polling place itself at parliamentary, Assembly and local government elections in Northern Ireland, in order to protect voters and prevent vote stealing? People who had perhaps not voted in previous elections, and who turned up to vote in the 2017 parliamentary election and were definitely on the register, discovered at 6 or 7 o’clock that evening that their votes had already been cast by somebody else.

There needs to be some legislative means to protect the polling place, both inside and outside, because in some places voters are subject to constant haranguing by party workers; indeed, we have all been victims of that. What can be done to ensure that photographic identities are protected and cannot be copied or photoshopped, as must have been the case in the instance to which I referred?

I would also like to know from the Minister whether discussions took place with the Electoral Office of Northern Ireland and the Electoral Commission before these instruments were made. If they did, what was the view of both organisations? In addition, are the Government confident that there will be full access to the franchise through this legislative means for those who are elderly, those on holiday, and for students, and that there will not be any denial of the franchise or any means of obviating these new legislative measures? We have seen examples of that.

Whenever the ballots are open to party political workers some few days before the actual polling place is open, will those workers have an opportunity to be informed of the number of postal votes issued, the number delivered, and the number rejected because they did not have the proper accompanying identification with them?

In any event, and in conclusion, I welcome the instruments as they stand and as they relate to the protection of the franchise in council and Assembly elections.

Lord Morrow Portrait Lord Morrow (DUP)
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My Lords, I am just interested in what the Minister said in relation to postal votes. He remarked that they are sometimes pushed through the door. I am not saying that he implied anything by saying that, but by listening to the way it was said you could nearly think that maybe there was something very improper about that. There has been no alternative up to now other than to push them through the front door—and certainly not through the back door.

As regards postal voting, if I go to the polling station, I must produce ID; there is no need for that at all if I get a postal vote. It strikes me that the potential for where abuse might occur is always with postal voting. I am not saying that it is on a wide scale, but I listened to what the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, said, and found myself concurring with much of it.

The other thing I want to emphasise is on voting on the day. It is imperative that there is a police presence inside the polling station. That can be reassuring to the public who come to vote. Some come in trepidation and fear because very often, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, rightly said, there is quite a hostile atmosphere outside from political activists coming to the polling station who do not always have a great regard for the rule of law. Indeed, they have very little respect for those who may not vote exactly how they guess—because that is all they are doing—they will. That needs to be looked at.

However, I have to say in favour of Northern Ireland that it has led the way on this matter. We have been able to get a fairer system of voting—if that is the proper word. Take remote, isolated areas, not least border areas: a minority community there might not feel very comfortable about coming to vote, hence they resort to postal voting—perhaps “resort” is not the right word either, but they will avail themselves of the postal voting system. That must be protected too. We can turn this thing down so tight that there is no degree of flexibility, because all we are trying to do is protect the genuine voter coming to vote. It is not those who are abusing the system who will feel pushed out here, because they will not; they will still have their ways of doing things, which are often very provocative. Indeed, sometimes quite a bit of agitation is applied.

Elderly voters who apply for a postal vote are vulnerable because activists—for the sake of a better word—will call at their door and tell them, “You’ve got a postal vote; I’ll deal with it”. That is highly suspect and must be dealt with in a way where the postal voter can be assured that their postal vote will go the way they want it to go, not the way the activist who arrives on their doorstep surmising, “Oh, here’s a number of postal votes, we’d better call here”, wants it to go. I have no problem with election workers assisting people, but that is all they should be doing.

16:00
I can give an example of where I called at a door; I did not know that there was a postal vote in it at all. The man said to me, “I want you to mark my postal vote”. I said, “Well, you’ve got the wrong man. I’ll not be marking your postal vote. What way do you want to vote?” He said, “I want to vote for you”. I said, “What about the second preference?” He said, “Oh, there’s no second preference. What’s that?” I hasten to add that I did not touch it in any way. The man was genuine—I like to think that I was genuine too—but this can open itself up to a lot of abuse.
Those issues need to be given some diligence. It is important that a police presence is there, both inside and outside our polling stations, to reassure voters.
Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, I shall be extremely brief because we support these SIs. Trust in elections is absolutely key to our democratic system. The review by the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, identified several areas where measures could be strengthened to reduce the risk of electoral fraud; these SIs stem from that, and are welcome.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, asked about consultation, but the instruments say that consultation took place with the Northern Ireland electoral bodies and the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland. This is not always the case but I understand that, in this case, consultation took place. That is very much to be welcomed.

My only substantial question for the Minister regards training on these changes for the electoral officers in Northern Ireland and making sure that the changes are communicated properly. Can he give us an assurance that this will be done in good time ahead of the forthcoming general election? Can he confirm that there will be provision for sufficient resources to be made available in order to implement these changes?

The Minister will know that, when these SIs were debated last week in the House of Commons, some concern was expressed about the definition of “political campaigner”. Can he confirm that these changes will also be communicated to the political parties in good time? Can he say a little about how the definition of “political campaigner” will be monitored in practice?

Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these SIs, which put in place new rules on the handing in of postal votes in local, parliamentary and Assembly elections in Northern Ireland, as provided for by the Elections Act 2022. An equivalent SI for Great Britain has already gone through both Houses, with noble Lords participating in the recent debate here in January.

The Act established that it was an offence for a “political campaigner” to handle postal votes other than in very select circumstances. These instruments set out the new rules for members of the general public, which will sit alongside the other measures that the Act brought in. We on these Benches will not oppose the SIs but we want to probe the Minister on their impact. It is always worth noting that, long before the 2022 Act, the Labour Party had for years been signed up to the Electoral Commission’s code of conduct for campaigners, which bans campaigners from handling completed postal ballots.

We seek clarity on who is covered by which provisions. Colleagues in the Commons, as the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, said, raised the issue of the need for good understanding and communication on who is covered by the definition of a political campaigner, so people have absolute clarity on which set of rules applies to them. If a person puts a party poster in their window during an election, are they a political campaigner? How will electoral officers be supported to adjudicate on whether someone is a political campaigner or not?

We would like to see more clarity for voters, so that votes are not lost by mistake. Can the Minister give more detail on how the regulations will be made clear to voters, in order to avoid any votes being lost due to people being unaware or unsure of the new requirements?

Finally, I want to pick up on support for electoral officers, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, and other noble Lords. Without a doubt, these changes will place some administrative burdens on our electoral administrators. The pressure on local authorities is significant; electoral administrators up and down the country are stretched and are getting their heads around the changes the Government are making, as we pointed out several times during the passage of the Elections Bill. In the light of the numerous SIs that have come before us, these changes will create an unprecedented level of work for electoral administrators. Will electoral officers be further resourced in Northern Ireland? Will they be strengthened to deal with the impacts and changes outlined? My noble friend Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick spoke about the consultation, which is referred to in the Explanatory Notes, but can the Minister tell us about the nature of the feedback from the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland and the Electoral Commission? I look forward to his response.

Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in this short debate. I shall try to respond to a number of the points that have been made. I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, who have extensive experience of elections in Northern Ireland, in both fighting them and campaigning as candidates. I have participated directly in only one election in Northern Ireland, in 2010—without a great deal of conspicuous success, I am afraid to say.

I am grateful to noble Lords. Both the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, spoke about protecting polling stations. Of course, we will keep that under close review. Any question of a police presence at polling stations would be a matter not for the Government but for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, in consultation with the Chief Electoral Office. Of course, we keep the issue constantly under review and take it very seriously. That said, notwithstanding some of the comments that have been made, my understanding is that the police and the chief electoral officer are clear that organised electoral fraud at polling stations or polling places is not currently a significant issue. However, I take on board the noble Baroness’s comments and will look closely at the issue.

On engagement with the chief electoral officer and the Electoral Commission, I assure noble Lords that extensive and significant consultation took place. I refer specifically to the questions of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. These issues were discussed at length, and I can confirm that the Electoral Commission and the chief electoral officer were fully supportive of the changes the Government are setting out in these regulations.

Concerns were raised about the potential denial of the franchise. The Government are satisfied, through our consultations with the Electoral Office and the Electoral Commission, that these regulations are a fair and proportionate measure which will help to protect the integrity of the election system in Northern Ireland and the postal vote system.

The noble Lord, Lord Khan of Burnley, referred to the definition of a political campaigner. He will be aware that this is set out in the legislation. For the record, it is worth setting it out for the Committee. A political campaigner is a candidate, election agent or sub-agent; somebody employed or engaged by a candidate for the purpose of assisting the candidate’s activities; a member of a registered political party who conducts activity designed to promote a particular outcome at the election; someone employed or engaged by a registered political party in connection with the party’s political activities; or a person employed or engaged by a person within any of the previous categories to promote a particular outcome at the election, which further applies to anyone employed or engaged by such a person to help promote a particular outcome at the election.

Of course, with any new system, we will need to see how this beds in, and we will keep it under review. If changes are necessary, we will come back to Parliament with them.

We are clear that the changes will be communicated directly to electors via forms, including declaration of identity and polling cards. The Electoral Commission and the chief electoral officer will also use all avenues open to them to publicise the changes, including their websites. Both the Electoral Commission and the chief electoral officer are seized of the importance of this and of making sure that the changes are clearly and widely understood by voters.

In conclusion, I know that all noble Lords believe that preserving our democratic processes is paramount. I hope the Committee will agree that these instruments enable us to ensure the integrity of the electoral system and maintain confidence in it by introducing, where we can, what I regard as sensible safeguards against the potential abuse of absent voting. I am therefore pleased to be able to introduce these measures.

Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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Before the Minister sits down, can he tell the Committee about extra support and resources for electoral officers? Perhaps I missed what he said about that.

Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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Of course; I apologise to the noble Lord. In Northern Ireland, all electoral delivery is the responsibility of the chief electoral officer and his staff. Local authorities in Northern Ireland are not involved in that at all. I can assure the noble Lord that we are working closely with the chief electoral officer to identify the specific impact of each of these measures and that any additional resource will be kept under review in that context.

Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Lab)
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I asked about the reconciliation of postal votes, which happens about three days before polling day in electoral offices. One party-political worker from each party goes along to that and the postal ballots are opened. Will there be a register showing how many postal ballots were submitted, and those that were rejected and accepted?

Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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That is my understanding. As I outlined in my speech, where votes have been rejected, the electoral officer will write to the individuals concerned to let them know why, where possible.

That probably covers most of what was raised in the discussion. I commend these instruments to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Representation of the People (Postal Vote Handling etc.) (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2024

Monday 26th February 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
16:14
Moved by
Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Representation of the People (Postal Vote Handling etc.) (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2024.

Motion agreed.

Reporting on Payment Practices and Performance (Amendment) Regulations 2024

Monday 26th February 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
16:15
Moved by
Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Reporting on Payment Practices and Performance (Amendment) Regulations 2024.

Relevant document: 10th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Business and Trade (Lord Johnson of Lainston) (Con)
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My Lords, as we all agree, small businesses are the backbone of our economy. They make up 99.9% of UK businesses, employ millions of people and enrich our daily lives. That is why the Government have declared 2024 to be the year of the small business. So far, we have strengthened our “Help to Grow” campaign, established the Small Business Council and are extending the payment performance reporting regulations which we are here to debate today.

However, small businesses are being let down by late and long payments, which contribute to an estimated 50,000 UK business closures each year. In addition, 56 million hours are wasted each year by businesses chasing late payments. I will outline the key elements of this statutory instrument and the Limited Liability Partnerships (Reporting on Payment Practices and Performance) 2017.

The first objective of this instrument is to extend the reporting requirements beyond the expiry of the Reporting on Payment Practices and Performance Regulations 2017 and the Limited Liability Partnerships (Reporting on Payment Practices and Performance) 2017 on 6 April this year until 6 April 2031—a very clear extension. Since the 2017 regulations and the Small Business Commissioner were introduced, instances of late payment by large businesses have fallen across the UK. If the 2017 regulations were to sunset without extension, we would remove payment time transparency entirely. I hope that noble Lords agree with me on that. We would also be removing the healthy dose of competition that drives large businesses to improve their payment time. Without the reporting requirements, businesses would not have to worry about being the outcasts of their peers due to poor payment practices.

My colleague Kevin Hollinrake MP, the Minister for Small Business, launched a consultation early last year which asked the public for their opinion on the regulations and our proposals for improving them. Trade associations and businesses across a wide range of sectors provided us with overwhelming support for the extension of the regulations and for the new reporting requirements which we will be introducing.

The second objective of this instrument requires large companies and limited liability partnerships in scope of the 2017 regulations to disclose additional information and report two new payment performance metrics. We will make it a requirement for businesses to provide the value of the invoices paid during the reporting period. Small businesses told us that this would provide them with even more clarity over how large businesses behave. We will also be introducing a requirement for businesses to report on the percentage of invoices that they dispute. Small businesses told us that they are concerned that some of their customers use frivolous disputes to avoid making timely payments. We listened to them and have taken action to address this.

The third objective of this instrument is to clarify the reporting requirements when supply chain finance is used by large businesses. This amendment will ensure that the impact of the use of supply chain finance is more accurately reflected in the reporting data, providing small businesses with a clearer picture of a business’s payment practices.

Like their predecessor, these regulations will require a review in April 2029, before their statutory expiration on 6 April 2031. It is critical that this legislation remains in place and is further improved to provide small businesses with the transparency that they need. By increasing the level of transparency, we will be arming small businesses with more information to help them make informed decisions about who they work with, while applying additional pressure to large businesses to improve their behaviour. We are incredibly grateful to the 137 respondents to the consultation on these regulations. They included small and large businesses as well as a range of representative trade bodies. There was overwhelming support for the extension of the regulations and for the new metrics that we will be introducing. I sincerely hope that my colleagues here with me today can see the benefits that these regulations provide and can agree with the introduction of this affirmative statutory instrument. I beg to move.

Lord Aberdare Portrait Lord Aberdare (CB)
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My Lords, I welcome these regulations, although I would have liked them to go even further. Prompt payment, as the Minister said, is vital to smaller construction firms, particularly at present, when a recent report from the Begbies Traynor Group found that the construction sector had the highest number of at-risk businesses in the UK, more so than any other industry. That is 83,000 firms in significant financial distress. Late payment and retentions are key issues exacerbating these problems for small construction firms, as larger companies higher up the supply chain seek to hold cash in their accounts for as long as possible, thereby adding to the challenges for smaller firms of inflation and increased costs of materials, energy and other necessities. Borrowing is often no longer an option for many SMEs. Therefore these regulations, requiring greater transparency of payment reporting, represent a step forward in keeping larger companies accountable and reinforcing the Government’s efforts to support SMEs by establishing prompt payment as the norm, not the exception.

The requirement to report on invoices both paid and unpaid by value, not just by volume, is particularly welcome. Even if the number of invoices paid within the time specified—30 days, 60 days or more than 60 days—represents a high percentage of all invoices, the total percentage value of those invoices may be significantly lower, because lower-value invoices tend to be paid more quickly. The requirement for senior management to sign off on the figures reported is also a laudable step forward.

However, there are some disappointing omissions from the regulations. The Government’s consultation response last November promised to introduce “reporting on retention payments”—that is, the withholding of a proportion of payments due to subcontractors for work they have completed—for businesses in the construction sector. Perhaps the Minister can tell us something about when and how this will happen, even if it may be too much to hope that he might give an indication of how the Government might move towards ending the pernicious practice of retentions altogether. It is high time that happened, after so many years of government consultations and considerations but no conclusions.

The consultation response also promised more active and visible enforcement of payment practice reporting requirements, but there is no reference to this in the regulations before us today. Reporting by itself will not solve prompt payment issues, so how will it be backed up by the enforcement measures promised by the Government? What will happen if a supplier to a government construction project reports consistent lateness in paying its supply chain, especially for higher-value invoices? Can the Minister say something about how and when this enforcement commitment will be met, including the plans for implementing changes to the role of the Small Business Commissioner to broaden its powers and increase its effectiveness in supporting small businesses?

I welcome the regulations as far as they go, but I look forward to hearing from the Minister how the Government plan to finish the job by introducing further regulations, hopefully quite soon, to ensure that reporting requirements are actually monitored and enforced and, above all, to begin finally to deal with the far too long-standing bane, blight, canker, plague, scourge—or whatever other synonym one may choose—of retentions.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, we, too, welcome this statutory instrument in as far as it goes. When I saw that my friend the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, was speaking, I knew that my speech would get shorter, because he has already covered much of the ground that I wanted to talk about. Late payment is just about the number one issue facing SMEs. If you listen to the organisations that represent them, it is the issue they always come back to. It will not be solved merely by transparency; we know that is the case. We have some transparency, but we are not getting solutions.

There is a culture in certain sectors. As the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, just set out, some sectors are worse than others. SMEs rely on a small number of large customers. The Minister said that publishing information would help SMEs to make informed decisions about whom they would work with. However, in many cases SMEs do not have the luxury of a decision about whether to sell their product or service to one company or another. That is the market and those are the businesses that operate; if there is a culture of late payment or retention in that business and, if those SMEs want to continue to trade, they have no choice about with whom they will trade. There is very little jeopardy for those companies that continue to practise late payment. That is the point the noble Lord made about enforcement.

I will make one other point about the building sector. Although it is a somewhat dated example, we can go back to 2018 and the Sandwell hospital project, which was managed and run by a company called Carillion. When that company went bust, it was very clear that its entire cash flow was managed through the late payment and retention of its contractors and subcontractors. The transparency situation has not appreciably changed since then.

A big issue that has to change is the Government’s view to their management of public procurement. The issue of late payment came up a number of times when we considered the public procurement Bill. Can the Minister ask his department what it can do, using the new Procurement Act, to help bolster enforcement on these issues? From our point of view, we would make it compulsory to sign up to a prompt payment code then seek ways to enforce it. Without that, the small improvement of this statutory instrument will continue to leave many of our small and medium-sized businesses in a position where their cash flow is used for the benefit of their customers’ cash flow.

Lord Leong Portrait Lord Leong (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. I declare my interests, as set out in the register, as a director of several businesses and companies. I thank the Minister for setting out the regulations and welcome the Government’s campaign, declaring 2024 as the year of the SME.

I have advocated for provisions such as those provided by this instrument since long before I became a Member of your Lordships’ House. As a businessperson, I welcomed the original instrument’s introduction in 2017, and support the extended sunset clause and the expanded reporting requirements contained in this legislation.

As noble Lords have said, for too long and far too often, SMEs that have supplied goods and services to larger companies and public sector organisations have not been properly respected regarding payment terms. A relatively small amount of money for a large organisation can be, for many SMEs, a question of whether wages or rents are paid on time. It is stressful enough running a business, and late payments from large customers, whether through inefficient systems or the deliberate withholding of payments, are an all too common factor. Late payments can lead to additional borrowing costs for SMEs. Further, some SMEs may be reluctant to chase late payments for fear of jeopardising the business relationship. When payments have to be chased, good will, time and energy are unnecessarily wasted on both sides.

In tough economic times, as costs rise and margins are squeezed, SMEs are particularly vulnerable to cash-flow problems. Yet, in 2022, SMEs were owed an average of £22,000 in late payments. This has massive negative impacts on reinvestment, liquidity and market operation.

We know that we have a serious productivity problem in our economy. We can also agree that SMEs are the lifeblood of a healthy economy. So I am unsurprised that a consultation on these regulations last year strongly supported their extension and expansion. The expansion requires companies to publish additional information on both the proportion of disputed invoices resulting in payments exceeding the agreed times and the value of invoices paid late, in addition to the number of such invoices—an important improvement, in my view. It also requires companies to report on the percentage of invoices paid before 30 days, within between 31 and 60 days, and after 61 days or longer.

16:30
Given that this legislation applies across the whole of the United Kingdom, the estimated implementation cost of up to £5 million seems reasonable when weighed against the potential benefits to SMEs. The increased scrutiny should both draw attention to the issues for boards and act as an incentive for them not to have reputational damage for their companies. In turn, this should create smoother cash flow for SMEs, leading to greater peace of mind, productivity and efficiency.
Are there plans to monitor the financial benefits of these regulations? I hope that this could provide strong evidence to justify the costs to businesses of implementation and ongoing maintenance in publishing these figures. Can the Minister also explain how accessible the data published under these provisions will be? How can we ensure that the data provided by companies are accurate, given the potential reputational damage for poor practice, so that suppliers, customers and the Government can monitor and address this issue when making commercial decisions?
I look forward to the Minister responding to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, on retention payments, especially in the construction sector. This is a bone of contention among many construction companies, whereby companies are holding back retention payments to benefit their cash flow. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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I greatly thank noble Lords for their passionate inputs into this debate. This is a serious issue. I should say that, although I do not believe I have any personal conflict, I would recommend that all noble Lords inspect my register of interests because, clearly, I have interests in businesses. Indeed, the noble Lords, Lord Leong and Lord Fox, and I have all had experience of working in small businesses, and late payment is a significant issue. We have these dry statistics, but the reality is that it has an effect on people’s lives, induces stress and wastes time, with an impact on the economy. It is something that we have to take very seriously. We are all in agreement that extending these rules until 2031 makes absolute sense. I am grateful to my colleagues for supporting us in this cross-party and cross-Committee view.

Some relevant questions were asked, and I will try to cover them briefly, but I would be absolutely delighted to have a further conversation. I know that my colleague, Kevin Hollinrake, is certainly available to hear further input from noble Lords, if that would be useful.

The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, made a point about the Small Business Commissioner. Let me say something; it may help to cover some of the other points made by noble Lords. The Payment and Cash Flow Review Report issued by Minister Hollinrake at the end of last year—I thought that it was a clear and excellent report—covers nearly all of the questions asked by noble Lords today, in particular the point about the Small Business Commissioner. The intention, to which we are absolutely committed, is to introduce broader responsibilities, which will allow said commissioner to undertake better investigations and publish reports; this will help significantly, I think.

The noble Lord, Lord Leong, asked who currently enforces the payments process. It is the Department for Business and Trade. We publish that data—it is on the Government’s website—and we also have a team tasked specifically with ensuring that we monitor late payment. That information is published.

I am sensitive to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, about the competitive case. As someone running a small business, one is—I was, and we were—obliged to take whatever business one can get. That is not irrelevant when it comes to the publishing of businesses’ competitive positions among each other; it is important. Similarly, the work that we have done on Companies House, with input from many noble Lords opposite, allows us to have better data around companies’ behaviour, which will have a significant impact. As I understand it, at least anecdotally, there is a concept in the consultation of competition between companies in terms of wanting to be a better payer is something that is not to be taken lightly.

I refer noble Lords to the report, looking at concepts such as late payments to be embedded in environmental, social and corporate governance standards, and so on. This will all have ultimately important impacts.

I have two other points, before I conclude, about the construction sector. Again, we have been very clear that we are looking to severely control the principles around retention payments, how they can be levied and how that operates in the information that we publish on that. We have been working very closely with an organisation called Build UK, which now publishes league tables on payment performance within the construction industry. This is a very clear flagged issue and something we are certainly working on. I am happy to write to noble Lords with further information if that is useful.

Lastly, the noble Lord, Lord Fox, raised a very important point about government procurement: how can we ensure that the Procurement Act is used more effectively to ensure that, through the supply chain, government procurement, which accounted for however significant a percentage of all procurement in the UK, is used to drive payment terms from its suppliers? That is a core element of this and it is worth saying that, since legislation was brought in in 2017, average payment times have reduced from 81 days to 36 days, which is a significant reduction. That is a single statistic, and I am very aware that it does not represent the value of the deals or go into a huge amount of detail, but that is the information that I have been given and I think it is very encouraging. Clearly, there are outliers and industries where there are still issues over payments. The Government take this point extremely seriously. It is a cornerstone part of our policy agenda to help small businesses, and indeed help the economy, to function properly. I am very grateful to all noble Lords for their input.

Lord Leong Portrait Lord Leong (Lab)
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The Minister mentioned the drop in procurement payment from 81 days to 36 days. That is obviously very encouraging, but do the Government have figures for how long it takes the main contractor to pay its subcontractors?

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Leong, for that point. We will have this data. I am looking, and average payment times between businesses peaked in December 2020 at 30 days and is now down to 35.6. I do not have the data in front of me for what it was before these regulations came in, but there is a very clear downward trend that can be seen in a chart in the report. I am happy to show noble Lords and to write with more specific information. The whole point about this exercise is to have the information to demonstrate what the trends are and who is not following the right courses of action.

Lord Aberdare Portrait Lord Aberdare (CB)
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Before the noble Lord sits down, if that is the right phraseology, I have no doubt about the Government’s commitment to some of these further developments in reporting on retentions, for example. My question was very much about how and when that is going to happen, and why it does not happen. Here we have regulations which seem to me to be ideal for that quite simple reporting of retentions. It does not go nearly far enough, in my view, towards actually scrapping retentions, but it does at least produce the sort of transparency that the Minister is talking about.

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for those points. The timeline is genuinely as soon as possible. We felt it was more important, given the timing of the cliff edge and the sunset around this legislation, to make sure that we extended that to 2031. I am aware, without speaking on behalf of my ministerial colleagues, that retention payments and issues around construction are absolutely on top of the priority hopper, so I hope the noble Lord will be satisfied with that.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, finally—I am not to be outdone—the Minister sets a lot of store on the public embarrassment issue. I come back to the balance of jeopardy: the Minister is a businessman of the world and he knows that, if you have a publicly listed company, it can make sure it reaches its numbers by the end of the year by extending its outgoings into the following year—it happens all the time. Which is more embarrassing to the board, not meeting its financial projections to the Stock Exchange or having a rather dirty note in its annual report 12 months later?

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord for the direction of his question. I do not necessarily think that I can answer it specifically. It would be unfair to deviate away from the main thrust of what we have been discussing today: a very sound extension of the right type of legislation for gathering information and including new areas within which to gather information, such as on value, to ensure that the supply chain funding and the data from companies using that system are not distorted. This is sensible, frankly, and has the support of everyone here.

However, the Committee is absolutely right to put pressure on the Government regarding potential payments around the construction industry and, importantly, the Small Business Commissioner. The plan is that the commissioner will be given significantly more powers—and not simply to publish the league tables, which I agree with the noble Lord is soft power. As I understand it, we are looking at opportunities to give the Small Business Commissioner, or whatever office it evolves into, real teeth when it comes to ensuring that companies are fulfilling their obligations.

There is more work to be done. This is a quite a new concept for the UK economy. We are looking at legislation that is just under 10 years old whereas, previously, we did not have any such legislative structures.

Motion agreed.

Paternity Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2024

Monday 26th February 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
16:41
Moved by
Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Paternity Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2024.

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Business and Trade (Lord Johnson of Lainston) (Con)
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My Lords, I am delighted to be here today for this debate on the draft regulations, which will benefit working families by providing valuable additional flexibility to paternity leave working alongside the paternity pay regulations.

Currently, eligible employed fathers and partners are entitled to one or two consecutive weeks of statutory paternity leave and pay to care for their baby or support the mother. This must be taken within eight weeks of birth or placement for adoption. These regulations recognise the importance of fathers and partners spending valuable time with their children in the first year following birth or adoption and will make it easier for parents to take their full paternity entitlement.

We know that having more flexibility in how paternity leave and pay can be taken is important to families. We consulted on this in 2019 through the Good Work Plan: Proposals to Support Families. We found that 64% of respondents wanted greater flexibility in when and how paternity leave could be taken. Allowing fathers and partners to take their leave up to a year following birth or adoption was the most commonly suggested measure to accomplish this. Our changes will provide this much-needed flexibility. These regulations will fulfil our 2019 manifesto commitment to make paternity leave easier to take. I want to set out briefly how they will do this.

Our first change will allow fathers and partners to take their leave in non-consecutive blocks. Currently, only one block of leave can be taken, which can be either one or two weeks. Our change will remove this barrier by enabling parents to take two non-consecutive weeks of leave. We hope that providing fathers and partners with the flexibility to take their two weeks of leave non-consecutively means that they will find it easier to use their full entitlement and take their second week of leave. For some parents, taking two weeks of leave in one go is challenging due to pressures of work or for other reasons. Enabling parents to take their leave non-consecutively means they can take their leave at a time that works best for them and could lead to an increase in parents taking their second week of paternity leave.

Our second change will allow fathers and partners to take their leave and pay at any point in the first year after the birth or placement for adoption of their child. This represents a big increase from the eight weeks following birth or adoption in which parents currently must take their leave. This change gives parents more flexibility to take their paternity leave at a time that works best for their family. For example, this change could enable a father or partner to take time off work to be the primary caregiver when the mother returns to work. This is important as evidence shows that fathers who spend time solo parenting are more likely to play a greater role in caring for their children in later years.

Our third change will shorten the notice period required for each period of leave. The new regulations will require an employee to give only four weeks’ notice prior to each period of leave instead of 14 weeks before the expected week of childbirth. This means that a parent can decide when to take their leave at shorter notice to accommodate the changing needs of their families. This will apply to parents in birth and surrogacy scenarios, as the notification rules are different for adopters. This will also allow fathers/partners to change the number and dates of blocks of leave they plan to take. Responses to the Good Work Plan consultation show that both employers’ and employees’ groups considered this to be a fair and practical option. These regulations will work alongside the Statutory Paternity Pay (Amendment) Regulations 2024 to make both paternity leave and paternity pay more flexible and easier for fathers and partners to take.

16:45
The Government have in place a range of leave and pay entitlements to support parents to balance their work and family responsibilities in a way that works best for them. For families who would prefer for a father or partner to take a longer period of leave, shared parental leave may be available. This entitlement allows eligible parents to share up to 50 weeks’ leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between them. Parents can also choose whether to take time off together or to stagger their leave and pay.
The Government are also introducing new entitlements to enhance the current provision for working parents, which include the following. Additional protections against redundancy will, from 6 April 2024, be available for pregnant women and parents who are returning to work after a period of eligible parental leave. On improvements to flexible working, the Flexible Working (Amendment) Regulations 2023 will, from 6 April 2024, mean that employees can request flexible working from their first day of employment, empowering them to ask for a working arrangement that suits them and their particular circumstances. On the introduction of carers’ leave, this new entitlement will, again from 6 April 2024, give unpaid carers one week of leave from work from their first day in a new job. This leave can be used to provide care or to make arrangements for the provision of care for a dependant with a long-term care need.
The Government are also introducing new leave and pay entitlement for parents of children who spend time in neonatal care. This will give each eligible employed parent up to 12 weeks of additional paid leave on top of their existing entitlements if their baby is admitted to neonatal care in its first month of life. It will ensure that parents no longer find themselves in the incredibly difficult position of having to choose between risking their job and spending time with their baby during such a stressful time.
Given all that, I beg to move this statutory instrument.
Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his presentation, which was very clear, and I welcome the movements that this statutory instrument represents. It is important to add more flexibility, to do things such as reducing notice, and to extend the period by which this leave can be used. The Minister is correct: the ability for fathers to spend time with their babies at this early stage is an extremely vital part of improving the level of parenting going forward.

However, we have to be a bit realistic, in that we have an economy that is gradually moving towards an informal employment model, whether it is gig economy or zero hours, which means that an increasing number of people are missed out by this sort of measure. Then, of course, we have straightforward self-employed people, who are not part of this, and people who have not been working for long enough for their business. That starts to leave out a large number of people. I cannot give the exact number, but at least a quarter of fathers are not eligible because of those issues; it is probably more because the gig economy is increasing. I urge the Minister and the Government to consult with all of us about ways those fathers can be brought into the system, because at the moment there is a danger that they will slip through the net.

We will be going into the election with a manifesto commitment to an increase in the amount of paternity leave that is available and in the level of flexibility. I am sure that His Majesty’s loyal Opposition will say something similar in a minute, perhaps with more specificity. However, I will make a special mention of those businesses that go beyond the law. Many businesses go way past the legal minimum, and one way of moving this forward is for the Government to recognise, praise and celebrate businesses that do far more than the current legal limit. They recognise that the fathers in their business benefit, not just as fathers but as employees. I think the Government and all of us can spend time celebrating that.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Fox, I welcome this SI, as far as it goes. As he said, it is welcome, but this is not groundbreaking; we are talking about small moves in timescale, the length of leave, when it can be taken and the number of opportunities to take it. On the previous SI, we were all declaring our interests. My interest in paternity leave finished 21 years ago, when my youngest child passed his first birthday, but I declare my interest in a number of businesses that I advise, all of which treat their employees at a better and higher level than the legal minimum that this sets—and I shall come back to that.

The SI, Explanatory Memorandum, impact assessment and the Minister’s introduction are all very clear. As I said at the start, this is welcome, but I have a few questions to raise. If the Minister cannot answer them, I am more than happy for him to write to me and place a record of that letter in the Library with answers to some of the specifics—but we support this SI going through.

To work through the regulations, one thing that I was not clear about is the territorial application, which is England and Wales and Scotland. Why does it not also cover Northern Ireland? I was interested in that.

Let us look at flexibility. When I did take paternity leave—Jeez, 23 or 24 years ago—my employer at the time, GMB trade union, offered two weeks, which could be taken within the first year, but there was no period that you had to take. These regs will cover two one-week blocks. Twenty-four years ago, I was able to take the first week, then my wife and I decided that I would take every Friday for the next five weeks, because she had help and support earlier in the week, and Fridays were the time that I could take to spend time with our child and allow her some respite. That flexibility of having one day a week for the next five weeks was a different way of taking it, but that is not covered by the regulations. So, just to take the point from the noble Lord, Lord Fox, a bit further, did the department look at widening that flexibility so that it could be taken as individual days?

I fully welcome it being within the first year, and the notice period is also more than welcome. The Minister noted that the first consultation was post the general election following a manifesto commitment in 2019. We are now in 2024, so I am wondering why it took so long to get here, because this is a positive move. The impact assessment, again, is spot on and covers all the right issues.

I am looking at flexibility for a reason. If we look at page 9 of the impact assessment, it looks at the take-up assumptions. Right now, we are on 74% for week one and 66% for week two. A large number of partners and fathers are not taking the second week, so this is about redressing that. However, the assumption is that the second week will move up to a central figure of 70%, which is an increase of only 4%. Even if we get to the high-end assumption of 74%, it is an increase of only 8%. Any increase is welcome, but is there more that the department can do to help general uptake on the first week? With these changes, there is no expectation that week one uptake would increase. Is there more that we could do on advertising and marketing to show and share the benefits of this? Looking at the finances of it, they are relatively small.

The Minister touched on the neonatal issue as well. I have a genuine question for information. Obviously, when there is a notice period, it is for four weeks. If you have a premature birth, or it is an adoption and things move quicker, that four-week period may be too much. The Minister touched on this but I did not quite get the detail of it. If there is a premature birth, what are the rules in terms of the partner or father being able to move quickly in order to take time off? I presume that many premature births end up in hospital but I am sure that support from the partner or father would be very willing. Can the Minister say anything on that?

The noble Lord, Lord Fox, touched on the gig economy so there is no need for me to repeat what he said.

With that, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, we will come back to the manifesto in due course, but now is not the time to set out what our policy would be for the next election. We on these Benches support these regulations.

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, for making the point about the declaration of interests. I hope that, for once, I also have no interests to declare in a debate and no need to apologise after the event for not declaring them—but who knows? What is important is that the nation will benefit, and we may too; that is a good thing. I will answer some of the questions asked but am happy to follow up with answers to some of the more specific questions in writing.

The noble Lord, Lord Fox, made some important points about celebrating and congratulating businesses that go beyond the statutory minimum. We should bear this in mind. I do not have the statistics on how businesses function in terms of percentages and performance but, to be honest, all the businesses that I have ever worked around or been involved with have always operated a different process for paternity leave, maternity leave and so on. That is a great thing; we should not forget it. These are minimum standards. It is important that I emphasise that. This should not be “the” standard, as it were; we hope for and expect companies—indeed, all bodies—to try to go beyond it. As the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, rightly said—28 years ago, was it?

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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Yes—24 years ago, the noble Lord had a greater degree of flexibility then than these minimum standards imply. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for raising that.

I also thank the noble Lord for making a point about the self-employed. Mothers are eligible for maternity leave as self-employed persons but self-employed fathers are not eligible for paternity leave. I have not covered this area in my ministerial work but I would be comfortable going back to my colleagues and asking them to scrutinise the opportunities there further. Bearing in mind that self-employed people—again, I have been self-employed to some extent—have very different working patterns and living patterns, we should not necessarily conflate the two, but it is absolutely right to review and assess how we as a society support families and carers of babies and children.

The noble Lord, Lord McNicol, made a number of important points. The first related to Northern Ireland. This area of legislation is devolved to Northern Ireland. We assume that it will follow the legislative work we are doing today—we cannot guarantee that but it is the assumption; there is some shaking of heads and nodding behind me—but, clearly, we believe that these minimum standards should be applied, certainly across Great Britain.

The noble Lord, Lord McNicol, asked whether we looked at widening flexibility. I do not have the answer to that because I was not engaged in the preparation of this legislation, but I will come back to him, if that is acceptable. All these measures are always taken in the light of balancing our desire to create the sort of society that we want with the need for economic growth and bearing in mind how businesses function. The issue with all these pieces of legislation and regulations is that they apply across the board to all businesses, and some businesses, particularly very small ones, can often find compliance difficult. They might not have the flexibility over the professional employee basis that many noble Lords here may be more used to, so I have some sympathy with the need to be quite clear about ensuring that these are minimum rather than general standards and that they can be operated by all companies across the economy.

I noted the noble Lord’s last point: 74% take-up of week 1, and 64%—or low 60s—take-up of week 2. That is precisely why we are making these changes: to encourage fathers to take that second week. We believe that additional flexibility will allow that.

The noble Lord asked about neonatal care regulations. I believe they are to come into play on 6 April, and they are also entitlements from day 1. If that is not the case, I will let him know. As far as I understand it, they operate slightly differently from paternity leave, but I am happy to clarify exactly what those new entitlements will be. Again, they will be a very important, welcome relief for many parents in an extremely difficult situation.

With that, I am grateful to noble Lords for their input in this valuable and important debate. I commend these regulations to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023 (Consequential, Supplementary and Incidental Provisions) Regulations 2024

Monday 26th February 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
17:01
Moved by
Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023 (Consequential, Supplementary and Incidental Provisions) Regulations 2024.

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Business and Trade (Lord Johnson of Lainston) (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to see the same team back again. We have covered late payments of paternity leave and now we are on economic crime; I hope that they are not linked. I believe these are to be consequential, which in plain English means inconsequential. I hope that we can cover this quite smoothly but of course, as always, I am very open to hearing noble Lords’ views on how we can improve our legislation to reduce economic crime in this country and get Companies House to work more effectively. At the risk of being slightly repetitive, I urge noble Lords to look at my interests in the register.

These regulations were laid before the House on 30 January under the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023, which I will refer to as the 2023 Act. This Act makes changes to the Companies Act 2006, which, among other things, reforms the role and powers of the Registrar of Companies.

Last week, I brought forward the first four affirmative statutory instruments to begin the long-awaited process of enabling the registrar to become a proactive gatekeeper of company information. Those regulations and the powers in the 2023 Act equip the registrar with the ability to compel answers about suspicious information, remove or change information on the UK company register, as well as analyse and disclose data available to her to law enforcement agents. I am pleased to say that, by next week, the registrar will be able to begin using her new powers. This will be an important step in improving the integrity of the company register for investors and businesses alike and will help in the fight against economic crime.

This statutory instrument will make minor consequential amendments to the Companies Act 2006 and the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022. It also introduces changes to eight pieces of secondary legislation. The changes are very technical in nature but are designed to ensure that the reforms apply coherently and the registrar’s new powers are exercised effectively.

The key purpose of this statutory instrument is to ensure that the changes introduced into the Companies Act 2006 will extend, where possible, to law governing other business entities registered in the UK. It also lifts restrictions on the use and disclosure of certain data by the registrar and allows her to share it more widely, especially with public authorities for purposes connected with the exercise of these functions. The changes are necessary to ensure consistency across the statute book pertaining to business entities, as well as to provide clarity and accessibility to users of legislation.

Although this statutory instrument does not make any policy changes, these regulations are an important effort to ensure that the registrar’s objectives and powers are applied consistently to all business activities registered at Companies House. I am sure that noble Lords have read some of the background notes but these are grandfathered in European companies, called Societas, and various other types of companies; I will be happy to write to noble Lords in greater detail but we are comfortable in wanting to make sure that we have not let any peculiar formation through the net.

Looking ahead, there will be greater opportunities to consider the more substantial parts of the reforms. My department will continue to bring forward further statutory instruments to implement the reforms to Companies House fully. These instruments will strengthen the role and powers of the registrar, help tackle economic crime and make the company register one of the most trusted in the world. I beg to move.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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Those are laudable aim, Minister. Those of us who laboured long and hard into the night on the then Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill welcome the arrival of this statutory instrument. When we considered the other ones last week, I asked when the commencement statutory instrument was due. I think that this is what I was asking for, so that is good news.

I have nothing to add. As I say, we debated long and hard on the Bill, now the Act. The proof of the pudding will be in Companies House and how it gets motoring on its new mission. I know that the Minister and the department know this; anything that we can do together to help it get there is to the benefit of all of us. We wish this statutory instrument godspeed and we wait hopefully for the other 50-something that will come hard on its heels.

Lord Leong Portrait Lord Leong (Lab)
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My Lords, as stated earlier, I declare my interest as a director of several companies, as set out in the register. I thank the Minister for clearly setting out this set of regulations. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Fox: we on these Benches are content to support this set of technical regulations and have nothing further to add.

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lords for their support of this technical point. If people are listening to these debates, they should not be under any illusion that there has not been a rigorous debate around every element of the ECCT Bill—and more will come. In this instance, these are technical points, and I would be grateful if this instrument could be passed by the Committee.

Motion agreed.
Committee adjourned at 5.07 pm.

House of Lords

Monday 26th February 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Monday 26 February 2024
14:30
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.

Death of a Member: Lord Cormack

Monday 26th February 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Announcement
14:36
Lord McFall of Alcluith Portrait The Lord Speaker (Lord McFall of Alcluith)
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My Lords, I regret to inform the House of the death of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on 24 February. On behalf of the House, I extend our condolences to the noble Lord’s family and friends.

Overseas Territories: Tax Haven Status

Monday 26th February 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:36
Asked by
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the economic benefits for the United Kingdom of the tax haven status of the Overseas Territories.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, in polarised times, I look across and see the significant space where the temperate voice of our friend Lord Cormack ought to be. We will all miss him. I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury (Baroness Vere of Norbiton) (Con)
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My Lords, the UK has not made any recent quantitative assessment of the economic benefits of the overseas territories to the UK, but we continue to support the territories to build vibrant and sustainable economies, including through encouraging greater links to the UK economy. The overseas territories are an integral part of the British family. The elected Governments of inhabited overseas territories are responsible for fiscal matters, including tax, and are committed to upholding international tax standards.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am grateful to the Minister, if not exactly any the wiser. Last November, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour of a new framework convention on tax justice. His Majesty’s Government were among a small club of rich countries that voted against. Now that that Motion has been so overwhelmingly carried, and there will be negotiations for a treaty to deal with tax avoidance and evasion in the world, will His Majesty’s Government engage?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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As the noble Baroness will know, there is an enormous amount of work going on at the moment around international tax. That has been led by the OECD and the inclusive framework, involving 130 countries and jurisdictions from around the world working on two pillars: one for the greater share of group profits to be taxed in market countries, and the second a global minimum tax, where all profits will be subject to a 15% minimum effective tax.

Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, from these Benches I join in with the shock and sense of loss at the death of Lord Cormack. He was such a big figure in this House and I know it is a very personal feeling for many of us sitting here, as well as for those across all Benches.

On 8 February—this month—a jury in Florida found the former Premier of the British Virgin Islands guilty of drug trafficking and money laundering while in office. Do the Government understand that that kind of corruption would have been much more difficult had there been in place the long-promised public register of beneficial ownership? The Government had guaranteed to this House that it would be in place for all overseas territories by the end of last year. Where are we in this process, and do the Government recognise their crucial role in stemming corruption?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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The Government absolutely recognise their crucial role in stemming corruption; we work very closely with the overseas territories on all sorts of issues when it comes to illicit finance. I refer the noble Baroness to the Written Ministerial Statement from my honourable friend in the other place, the Minister for the Americas, Caribbean and the Overseas Territories; in that is a helpful summary that sets out where each of the overseas territories is in relation to introducing a public, accessible register of beneficial ownership.

Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con)
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My Lords, I declare an interest as I have family living in the Cayman Islands. Is that particular territory not a good example that others should follow? It has a well-regulated jurisdiction with a tax-neutral framework, which supports taxes being paid where the profits are made. It has signed up to and is approved by FATF, on anti-money laundering, and also has a positive rating on the OECD Global Forum. Against that sort of background, does it not demonstrate that territories such as Cayman that are close to us have got their house in order? And, yes, against that background one would hope that any that have not would follow suit.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I am grateful for my noble friend’s support for the Cayman Islands, but it is just one of the many different overseas territories. Not wishing to detract at all from his words, I would say that the Cayman Islands is doing well, but I think it can do better. For example, the beneficial ownership register that the Cayman Islands is planning to put in place will still have a legitimate interest access filter. We believe that that is an interim step, and we would like to see fully open registers of beneficial ownership as soon as that can be implemented.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I associate myself with the comments in relation to Lord Cormack. One thing he was incredibly powerful about was encouraging others, particularly on the parliamentary fellowship across this House. He was a great person who will be sadly missed.

Perhaps I might pick up the Minister in relation to the timescale for registers of beneficial ownership. We have had some progress, I am not denying that, but the British Virgin Islands and others have got timetables that talk about five years. What are the Government doing to support these overseas territories to implement these registers in a speedier and more thorough fashion? Support is needed as well.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I absolutely agree that we need to support the overseas territories. We have the skills, capacity and capability to do that, and that is what we do—but recognising that the relationship with each of them can be very different. They have elected Governments of their own. Those Governments are responsible for their domestic affairs. The noble Lord mentioned timeframes of five years. The British Virgin Islands, which I admit is probably towards the end of introducing the beneficial ownership registers, is looking at putting a framework in place no later than quarter 2 of 2025.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, can the Minister explain why, at a time when British people are paying more tax than they ever have done, the richest people in the world and in this country are avoiding tax altogether—people such as the part-owner of Manchester United, who now apparently wants the taxpayer to give him billions of pounds to invest in his business? Where is the fairness in that?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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Obviously, I cannot comment on any individual’s tax affairs, but it is the case that overseas territories are non-sovereign jurisdictions. They have a unique relationship as part of the British family, but they set out their own tax legislation within their own legal structures and it is certainly not for the UK Government or Parliament to drive a coach and horses through that.

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Portrait Lord Hannan of Kingsclere (Con)
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My Lords, has the Minister’s department carried out any assessment of how much higher tax rates would be in the rest of the world if there were not competition from these lower-tax jurisdictions to keep us in check?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I am afraid I have to say to the noble Lord that we have not carried out that assessment.

Lord Sikka Portrait Lord Sikka (Lab)
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My Lords, on 8 June, the Treasury Secretary in the other place said:

“HMRC plans to calculate and publish a new stand-alone”


estimate of the

“offshore tax not being correctly reported”

by individuals

“next year, for the ‘Measuring tax gaps’ 2023 edition”.

Well, that hat has already been published, but there is still no estimate of the offshore tax gap. Can the Minister explain why the Government are so relaxed about offshore tax avoidance?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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The Government are not relaxed about offshore tax avoidance. We maintain that all tax avoidance needs to be stamped out, which is why we work so very closely with the overseas territories on tax avoidance, anti-money laundering and counterterrorism finance, including with registers of beneficial ownerships. We have very good relationships. We meet with our colleagues frequently to discuss how to put things in place such that they are implemented as quickly as possible.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, does my noble friend accept that, if some of the overseas territories ceased to be tax havens, they would become an even greater burden on the British taxpayer?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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As I said in my opening remarks, we encourage the overseas territories to develop sustainable and successful economies. As I also said, they are responsible for setting their own tax rates, and we will think about how future tax rates may change. It is also the case that tax rates will be underpinned by, in particular, pillar 2, which will be implemented via domestic rules across all overseas territories where it is relevant.

NHS: Neurology Care

Monday 26th February 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:46
Asked by
Lord Londesborough Portrait Lord Londesborough
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the NHS’s resourcing and capacity to provide specialist care, in line with that provided to cancer and cardiac patients, for those living with neurological conditions.

Lord Markham Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Lord Markham) (Con)
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My Lords, integrated care boards are responsible for commissioning most services for people with neurological conditions. NHS England has established the neuroscience transformation programme, a multi-year clinically led programme aimed at improving specialised adult neuroscience services in England. The programme has developed a new model of integrated care for neuroscience services to support ICBs to deliver the right service at the right time for all neurology patients, including providing care closer to home. A toolkit is being developed to support ICBs to understand and implement this new model.

Lord Londesborough Portrait Lord Londesborough (CB)
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My Lords, there are 11 million people in the UK living with neurological conditions—the cause of more deaths than cancer and heart disease combined and the greatest cause of lifetime disability. The NHS is clearly not set up to provide the specialist care needed. France and Germany have more than four full-time consultant neurologists per 100,000 people; here, it is just over one. Across the UK, there are no full neuro units to be found in the majority of our counties. The consequential wastage of healthcare resource by non-specialist care, plus the social and economic burdens, is put at £96 billion by the Economist in a findings report released today. Can the Minister tell us: what are the plans to address this critical imbalance?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord. I had the opportunity to join the Neurology Alliance forum today, which was quite timely. I think its approach is entirely right in looking at what we can do to help people get on with an active life and back into the workforce, understanding that the economic impact of that is key. We have set up the neuroscience transformation programme, which the Neurology Alliance is on board with, which we think will tackle many of the issues that the noble Lord mentions.

Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie Portrait Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie (Con)
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My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Scottish Government’s advisory committee on neurological conditions and as chief executive of Cerebral Palsy Scotland. People with neurological conditions are faced with navigating a very complicated maze of services straddling primary care, secondary care and social care. Some conditions have well-defined pathways; many other conditions, such as cerebral palsy, do not. If the Government are not going to look at an overall neurological strategy such as the one that we have in Scotland, what practical steps will they take to help people with neurological conditions navigate these confusing services, so that they get the right support at the right time?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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My noble friend is correct. The important step towards this was our appointment of the first national clinical director of neurology over the last year. The task force put out a progressive neurological conditions toolkit which sets out the pathways exactly as my noble friend mentions. It shows the treatments for over 600 conditions. This is a complex area so it is vital that the pathways are understood in each area and patients can understand how to navigate them.

Lord Allan of Hallam Portrait Lord Allan of Hallam (LD)
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My Lords, the Government have created a new occupational health task force, which is welcome, but it will not help somebody to stay in their job or get back to work if they face a wait of many months to see a neurologist because that is what their condition requires. Can the Minister confirm that he will be working with his colleagues in DWP to ensure that the neurology capacity is there to see referrals from occupational health services more quickly?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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Yes, absolutely. Of course, this is what the CDCs are about as well in trying to get that diagnosis capacity. At the Neurological Alliance forum I was just at, the main thing was needing help with early diagnosis, because getting treatment is key to it all and, also, seeing whether we can sometimes refer people directly to the CDCs so that the GP is not always the bottleneck.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, as Lord Cormack was a fellow of Lincoln, as I am, I pay tribute today to his considerable contribution to the City of Lincoln, as well as to this House and to the other place. May his memory be for a blessing.

The Neurological Alliance has expressed concern about the lack of clarity over whether new therapies for those affected by neurological conditions and their changing needs have been factored into the workforce plan. Can the Minister set out how the workforce plan will respond to these changing circumstances both for those with neurological conditions and those with other conditions?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I echo the noble Baroness’s comments regarding Lord Cormack.

In terms of the long-term workforce plan, I was talking this morning to the national clinical lead in this area and to Professor Steve Powis. The next stage in terms of the detail is looking at the individual specialties and neuroscience experts are part of that. In the last five years, we have seen an increase of about 20% or so in this space but understanding that need going forward is the next stage in the long-term workforce plan.

Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford Portrait Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford (Con)
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My Lords, I echo the comments about Lord Cormack—we are all going to miss him dreadfully in this Chamber.

There are about 600,000 people in the UK living with epilepsy. An epileptic seizure can cause significant disability and, in the worst instances, death. Only half of those living with epilepsy are seizure free, but this could rise to 70% if all those with epilepsy were targeted to the right treatments. Can the Minister say what plans the department has to improve epileptic treatment in the UK with improved specialist care?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I thank my noble friend, and I proudly wear the Epilepsy Action badge from the meeting I was just at. As my noble friend says, it is all about trying to get that early diagnosis. If you can get that and help people get the right treatments, that is exactly the right direction of travel because it can make a huge difference to outcomes. The progressive neurological condition toolkit I mentioned earlier sets out that pathway and the model of integrated care for all the ICBs, which they will all then be held to account on to make sure patients with all these conditions—and there are 600 of them including epilepsy—are getting the right treatment in their neighbourhood.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my interests in palliative care. Do the Government recognise that many of the patients with neurological disease are living with palliative care symptoms such as pain, breathlessness, worry and fatigue, which could be managed in the community with good integration between palliative care services and neurological services? Therefore, have the Government given specific commissioning guidance to integrated care boards to ensure that they look to see how the integration is developing in their own areas to enable these patients to improve their quality of life and their ability to live actively for as long as possible?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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Yes, that is precisely what I was referring to: the progressive neurological condition toolkit is all about the pathways for that integrated approach to it all. Again, there are 15 million people affected—I think this statistic was mentioned earlier—and one in five deaths come from related conditions, so making sure we have that integration with palliative care as well as the other services is key.

Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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My Lords, neurological conditions require diagnosis by a specialist. Thereafter, the individuals need the input of people from all the different disciplines of the NHS. At the moment, the expectation to manage that falls upon GPs, and they cannot manage it. The key people who can are specialist nurses, and we have a severe deficit of specialist nurses for several neurological conditions. Can the Minister say how that deficit is to be addressed by the workforce plan?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness. Yes, the point about epilepsy nurses was made very clear to me just half an hour ago, and I quizzed both the national clinical director of neurology and Professor Stephen Powis on that subject this morning. I was assured that the next stage of the long-term workforce plan goes into that level of detail. I have made a commitment to the House to share some of that data, so we can make sure that it really is covered properly.

Lord Patel Portrait Lord Patel (CB)
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My Lords, as human beings we are one biological system. A disease in one system often impacts another: for instance, chronic cardiac failure often results in cognitive dysfunction and people with neurological conditions often have associated cancers. While this Question is about funding for neurological diseases—and in the last two weeks, we have had Questions about funding for cardiovascular disease, cancers and others—what the whole thing shows is that we have one system failure in the health service. The only way that might be addressed is to get some out-of-the-box thinking. Does the Minister agree?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I hope the noble Lord knows me well enough to know that I am always up for some out-of-the-box thinking. We are putting a lot of resources into this space. When we talk about dementia, which is captured in this, the commitment I gave last week was to bring in the expert panel, so that we can start to really understand this because early diagnosis is absolutely key. There is some out-of-the-box thinking there. Again, just now I was caught by the spinal muscular atrophy people; they were saying that if we could add that to the baby pinprick test, for instance, we could make sure that babies never suffer those symptoms later in their life, in many cases. I am absolutely up for that out-of-the-box thinking.

Life Sciences Businesses

Monday 26th February 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:57
Asked by
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what further steps they intend to take to support life sciences businesses starting up and scaling up in the United Kingdom.

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Business and Trade (Lord Johnson of Lainston) (Con)
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The life sciences sector is among the UK’s most globally competitive, with a turnover of more than £108 billion in 2022 and employing over 300,000 people. Supporting the sector is a priority for this Government, as demonstrated through a range of initiatives. These include a £520 million fund supporting life science manufacturing, reforms to the UK’s pension market to boost funding for companies, grants for early-stage companies via Innovate UK, export support and initiatives to accelerate the NHS adopting innovation.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for that reply. We all understand the importance of the life sciences sector to our economy and to the health of our nation. Can he explain why, under this Government, the UK’s share of global exports in this sector was down from 9% to 4%, and our share of global R&D fell from 7.2% to 3.2%, between 2012 and 2020? Does that not represent a complete failure by this Government to create the stability and certainty in which life science innovators can flourish?

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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I am always grateful for challenge from any Peer in this House, but I have very different figures. If I look at the turnover of the life sciences sector, I find that, in 2022 alone, it was up by 13%, and it is up by 40% since 2015. There is a whole lot more that we can do, but I am proud of our record when it comes to garnering investment—FDI, which is particularly my function—into the UK life sciences sector. Over a three-year average, we are third in the world, behind only the United States and Germany. That is rather a significant tribute to the people in this sector and the Government’s support of it.

Lord St John of Bletso Portrait Lord St John of Bletso (CB)
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My Lords, it is well known that there is a chronic shortage of purpose-built life sciences wet lab space. Can the Minister elaborate on what measures are being taken to build more science parks and innovation hubs?

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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The noble Lord is absolutely right to raise this as a core issue. I am quite frustrated myself at some of our planning points, which certainly delay the building of these essential facilities. I am glad that life sciences wet lab space has been coming on stream in significant quantities, not least recently in Canary Wharf, which I hope he will join me in celebrating. However, there is more to be done; I totally agree with the noble Lord.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, the Office for Life Sciences reports to the DHSC and the DSIT. The Office for Investment is a joint No. 10 and Department for Business and Trade unit. I spoke to a major biotech investor in this country, which said that the lack of communication between these two organisations is hampering its progress in building new biotech capacity in this country. Does the Minister agree that these two organisations ought to work closely together? There ought to be an explicit link, so that when companies are trying to scale up and invest in this country there is a proper joined-up approach.

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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I sometimes feel that the noble Lord, Lord Fox, asks the perfect question, though we have not collaborated. Tomorrow, I have just such a trilateral meeting, between DSIT and the Department of Health, the Office for Life Sciences and the Department for Business and Trade. I totally agree with the comments made by businesses about the siloing of government, which I am afraid is an issue we all face. This working group will have enormous power in trying to drive change and there are a number of things I want it to do. First, I want it to try to identify key companies around the world that we want to bring to the UK. Secondly, it should look at how we scale up the existing opportunities we have. The noble Lord is absolutely right, and I am delighted that tomorrow will mark the first event of which he has spoken.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
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My Lords, the Minister referred to the position of the US as being in advance of the UK in life science innovations. Our universities increasingly recognise the critical need to put innovations and discoveries of patient benefit through start-ups and scaling. However, costs and complexity are driving start-ups to pursue regulatory approvals via the US FDA, rather than here. This means that patients get biotech and medtech advances far later than those across the Atlantic, even from UK spin-outs. What are the Government doing to remove the redundancy and repetition to incentivise UK companies to pursue NHS deployment in this very competitive global market?

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her prompting. The Government have put more money into the MHRA, specifically for clinical trials, to assist all of our agencies to license more effectively and faster. As Minister for better regulation, it is part of my specific project to drive innovation. Clearly, this is not without risk, but, if we are to own the IP and lead the world, it is essential that we must go faster. That applies not just to the regulators but to government departments. We are working hard on this, but I appreciate the challenge.

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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My Lords, I refer to my interests, as set out in the register. When I was in the Department of Health, I had a meeting with a number of start-ups from the life sciences sector. They told me what wonderful products and services they had, but that they could not convince investors to invest in them. We looked at whether we could bring investors together with start-ups and scale-ups, so that they better understood each other—the companies could understand what the investors were asking for in returns and investors could understand the potential of these businesses. What progress has been made in bridging the gap between investors seeking to understand investing in the life sciences industries and those start-ups seeking to attract investment?

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble friend for that point. This is very much the work of the Office for Life Sciences, the Department for Business and Trade, and the Office for Investment. We do a huge amount of work liaising with companies and investors. One of our missions is to get more life sciences funds established in the UK, so that we can, I hope, benefit from the home buyer. I was particularly pleased a few months ago to celebrate the opening of the Flagship Pioneering office in London, which is precisely that sort of life sciences fund. It was part of the incredible investment in companies such as Moderna. We want them here and they want to come to the UK. If we can encourage them to do this, it will have a huge advantage in bridging the gaps my noble friend mentioned.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, I wonder whether the atmosphere is too pessimistic. The University of Oxford has propelled itself to the forefront of the world in its life sciences and science parks, notably one by Magdalen College that has more than 100 start-ups and is expanding. Does this not mean that the Government should support universities, their freedom and their ability to do science? It is from that that the great success of these life sciences start-ups has come.

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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I totally agree with the noble Baroness. I would go further and say that one policy motor that has been successful so far is these life science investment zones, particularly in Liverpool. I had the privilege to meet with Steve Rotherham today and the metro mayors, who have been leading across the board and in Yorkshire, to find an essence of focus for the investment into these new technologies. We are doing a huge amount of work on university spin-offs as well—organisations such as Northern Gritstone and Midlands Mindforge are the absolute core of the work I am doing to get money internationally into these pools of capital.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, my question arises out of the one just asked. Can the Minister elaborate on what the Government are doing to spread the excellent work of the life sciences in this country more evenly around the UK?

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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I hope I have answered this to some extent. There is no limit to the amount of work that we can do to get more investment into this sector. It starts from the smallest opportunities at universities, where we can put more money into life science spin-out funds, trying to help the organisations that pool that capital, as I say. It is about trying to establish bases in London for the key life sciences funds from abroad, and working with sovereign wealth funds, the biggest pension funds and the UK pension fund industry to put money into the industry. That is an important start.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, will the Minister attend the conference on life sciences in Aberdeen on 20 March, which is designed precisely to focus on this and is being promoted not just by the Aberdeen chamber of commerce but by the Times and the industry? Will the Government attend?

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising this. It was not in my diary, but this is an area of great passion for me and, if I can attend, I certainly will. I am sure some of my officials will be heavily engaged. Earlier in the year, we attended the key life sciences summit in San Francisco, which I had the privilege of attending the year before. We have to be out there flying the flag, so I totally agree with that prompt and I will look into it.

Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford Portrait Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of Oxford University Innovation. Following the excellent question from the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, I am pleased to report that university innovation is going from strength to strength. At the University of Oxford, we spun out an average of four to five companies in 2015, but there was an average of 20 in 2021. Investments in Oxford spin-outs went from £125 million a year from 2011 to 2015 to over £1 billion a year now; that is more than 45% of the country. The question is not how we get the innovation started—that is easy. The question is how we scale those companies and keep them in the UK. What are the Government doing to attract that growth capital and keep those companies here?

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for that question, and I congratulate her on the astonishing amount of work that she has done to promote the sector. I am happy to have further discussions on the technical focus of the spending and getting the right level of capital into the scale-ups. As I say, it runs from a range of university spin-outs through to the development and commercialisation of those ideas. We then have to locate funds in the UK, and, at the highest level, we need more liquidity in our stock market for the very large venture opportunities. That circles back to the Mansion House compact and the Edinburgh reforms, which the Chancellor has been absolutely right to focus on. I hope the Government will announce in the near future the result of the LIFTS competition, which is a £250 million fund specifically designed to kick-start investment from defined contribution pension savers into this industry, which will have an important impact.

Employment of People with Criminal Convictions

Monday 26th February 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:08
Asked by
Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to encourage businesses to employ people with criminal convictions.

Lord Bellamy Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bellamy) (Con)
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My Lords, I am pleased to say that the rate of prison leavers in employment six months after release almost doubled in the two years to March 2023, from 14% to over 30%. New Futures Network, the Prison Service’s specialist employment team, runs quarterly recruitment drives. These national campaigns have seen more than 200 employers and partners working with HMPPS to deliver more than 230 events in prison. Several other measures support the Government’s drive to get former prisoners into work.

Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD)
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My Lords, I know—because I told him about it this morning—that the Minister is aware of the ban the box campaign to do away with the criminal convictions tick box on job application forms so that applicants can be assessed on their skills before their past mistakes. We know that work after prison dramatically reduces reoffending rates and helps to create a safer society. It helps companies to access a rich talent pool, yet three-quarters of them discriminate against applicants with convictions, excluding millions of jobseekers from the market. I thank the Minister for agreeing to look into this campaign, led by the charity Business in the Community, to see how the Government might support it.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, as your Lordships know, under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 the Government have been progressively reducing the need to disclose previous convictions, particularly in relation to community sentences and sentences of under four years, and now even some non-violent sentences of over four years can be regarded as spent. As the noble Baroness has said, the ban the box campaign run by Business in the Community, which comprises more than 150 employers covering over 1 million roles, asks employers to delay the point at which applicants are asked to tick a box on and give details about any criminal convictions so that they can expose their skills at interview before any disclosure of convictions is made, if such disclosure is still required.

The Government are very pleased to commend the work of Business in the Community, which has now led the ban the box campaign for several years. In 2021 it passed the milestone of covering more than 1 million roles, and as long ago as 2016 the Government signed up to it for the Civil Service. The noble Baroness rightly identifies that this is a very important initiative. Increasing rates of employment on release from prison is very important, and the Government will continue to support the initiative.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I was going to ask about ban the box as well. The Minister has given a full answer. However, can he say something about the practices of the Ministry of Justice? When it contracts with numerous companies and NGOs, does it require them to practice ban the box themselves?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, I will have to come back to the noble Lord on that question, as I am not in a position to answer it straightaway.

Lord Carter of Haslemere Portrait Lord Carter of Haslemere (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as a trustee of the Prison Reform Trust. An impressive 10% of Timpson’s workforce are ex-offenders. Its chief executive said on the radio just a few days ago that they are among his best employees, no doubt because they are highly motivated to succeed. In addition to the Government encouraging businesses to employ more ex-offenders, which I strongly support as a key to rehabilitation, are government departments doing anything to recruit more ex-offenders?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, the Government do recruit ex-offenders and have signed up to various programmes to do so. That is a matter for individual departments, but it is certainly part of the Government’s programme to pursue that avenue.

Lord Bailey of Paddington Portrait Lord Bailey of Paddington (Con)
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My Lords, with the reoffending rate remaining stubbornly high, what work is being done to prepare offenders to perform properly in the job market when they leave prison?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, I can give your Lordships a variety of examples. I was talking to a prisoner from HMP Winchester the other day; he was very pleased and said, “It’s been great. I’ve completed the IT course and for the first time in my life I can do a Word document and an Excel spreadsheet”.

Your Lordships may have seen the report in the press this morning about HMP Liverpool, which has been completely transformed. The brewery Marston’s has a mock-up of a pub, where prisoners can train to work in hospitality. In HMP Swansea you will find the mock-up of an HGV with which you can qualify for your HGV licence. In HMP Humber you can do the same thing with a forklift truck. There is a great deal going on in our prisons, and we should be very proud of our Prison Service for pursuing those initiatives.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, from these Benches I add our own sadness at the death of Lord Cormack. His contributions to this House and to the Church will be sorely missed.

As has been said, there has been a serious decline in rehabilitation and release planning services in recent years. Prisoners need to be engaged with purposeful work; there needs to be planning ahead of their release—including release on temporary licence—to secure employment, if we are to prevent reoffending. What steps are the Government taking to increase release on temporary licence?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, the Government are very keen to allow prisoners release on temporary licence wherever that is possible. I emphasise the work that has gone into preparing prisoners for employment; there is now an employment lead in every one of our 93 prisons, and an employment hub where prisoners can access vacancies, make applications, et cetera. Every prisoner has an ID, a bank account and accommodation arranged when they are being released. There is an employment advisory board in every prison, and these measures are taking effect.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, it is the turn of the Green Benches. If everyone is quick, we can then hear from my noble friend Lord Polak.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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I will be quick. I will just say that I will miss Lord Cormack very much.

There is a section of prisoners—the IPP prisoners, who are imprisoned for public protection—who are constantly being called back to prison, and their mental health is very much under threat; they are a very vulnerable population. Are prisons looking to rehabilitate those prisoners in particular, by preparing them for work?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, there is a specific action plan in place for IPP prisoners. The question of whether they are being prepared for work is a little premature because they first have to be prepared for release. We are going to discuss this matter in great detail in the debates on the Victims and Prisoners Bill, and I look forward to further discussions with the noble Baroness.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, for eight years I have had the privilege of sitting on this Bench next to Lord Cormack, often annoying him by asking him procedural questions; of course, he knew every answer. Yehi zichro baruch—may his memory be a blessing.

I refer the House to my interests in the register: I am an adviser to Legacie Developments, a small construction company in Liverpool run by John Morley, which last week celebrated the 50th ex-prisoner it has employed. Does the Minister welcome this? How can we expand this sort of operation?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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The Government are very keen to expand all opportunities for the re-employment of prisoners. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to a range of employers—Timpson, Marston’s, Greene King, Greggs, Wagamama, Marks & Spencer and many others—of which, as a nation, we should be proud.

Registered Office Address (Rectification of Register) Regulations 2024

Monday 26th February 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Limited Liability Partnerships (Application of Company Law) Regulations 2024
Service Address (Rectification of Register) Regulations 2024
Principal Office Address (Rectification of Register) Regulations 2024
Motions to Approve
15:19
Moved by
Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston
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That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 18 December 2023 be approved.

Relevant document: 8th Report from Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 19 February.

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Business and Trade (Lord Johnson of Lainston) (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I beg to move the four Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper en bloc. In doing so, I declare my interest as a director and person with significant control of some companies. I do not believe there is a direct conflict, but I inadvertently omitted to declare my interests in Grand Committee last week, for which I apologise.

Motions agreed.
Committee (6th Day)
Relevant documents: 7th Report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, 1st Report from the Constitution Committee. Welsh Legislative Consent sought.
15:20
Amendment 133
Moved by
133: After Clause 38, insert the following new Clause—
“Major incidents: duty of candour(1) In discharging their duties in relation to a major incident, public authorities and public servants and officials must at all times act within their powers—(a) in the public interest, and(b) with transparency, candour and frankness.(2) If a major incident results in a court proceeding, official inquiry or investigation, public authorities and public servants and officials have a duty to assist—(a) relating to their own activities, or(b) where their acts or omissions may be relevant.(3) In discharging the duty under subsection (2), public authorities and public servants and officials must—(a) act with proper expedition,(b) act with transparency, candour and frankness,(c) act without favour to their own position,(d) make full disclosure of relevant documents, material and facts,(e) set out their position on the relevant matters at the outset of the proceedings, inquiry or investigation, and(f) provide further information and clarification as ordered by a court or inquiry.(4) In discharging their duty under subsection (2), public authorities and public servants and officials must have regard to the pleadings, allegations, terms of reference and parameters of the relevant proceedings, inquiry or investigation but may not be limited by them, in particular where they hold information which might change the ambit of the said proceedings, inquiry or investigation.(5) The duties in subsections (1) and (2) must—(a) be read subject to existing laws relating to privacy, data protection and national security, and(b) apply in a qualified way with respect to private law and non-public functions as set out in subsection (6), and(c) not be limited by any issue of insurance indemnity.(6) The duties in subsections (1) and (2) will be enforceable by application to the relevant court or inquiry chairperson by any person affected by the alleged breach, or the court or inquiry may act of its own motion. (7) Where there are no extant court or inquiry proceedings, the duties may be enforced by judicial review proceedings in the High Court.”Member's explanatory statement
This new clause would require public authorities, public servants and officials to act in the public interest and with transparency, candour and frankness when carrying out their duties in relation to major incidents.
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, there is an urgent need to introduce the duty of candour for those operating across public services such as policing, health, social care and housing. A duty of candour would place a legal requirement on organisations to approach public scrutiny—including inquiries and inquests into state-related deaths—in a candid and transparent manner. The duty would enable public servants and others delivering state services to carry out their roles diligently, while empowering them to flag dangerous practices that risk lives.

By requiring openness and transparency, a statutory duty of candour would assist in creating a culture of change in how state bodies approach inquests and inquiries. It would give confidence to those individual members of an organisation who want to fully assist proceedings, inquiries and investigations but who may experience pressure from their colleagues not to do so. A statutory duty of candour would compel co-operation with proceedings, inquiries and investigations, thereby dismantling the culture of colleague protection in, for example, the police service.

The NHS currently has a duty of candour whereby there is no liability for breaches. The need for sanctions on a duty of candour was recently evidenced by the inquiry into deaths in Essex mental health services. Before the inquiry was converted into a statutory inquiry, the then chair had said that she could not effectively do her job and that only 30% of the named staff had agreed to attend evidence sessions—a key element of the duty of candour as put forward in the amendment, which would apply to all public authorities.

A duty of candour needs to apply to all public authorities to ensure an effective end to evasive and obstructive practices following contentious deaths. State-related deaths, particularly major incidents such as the Hillsborough tragedy or the Grenfell Tower fire, commonly involve many different public agencies, from local authorities to health services. Without ensuring a duty of candour that applies to all involved in relevant investigations, institutional defensiveness and delays will continue, and the fundamental purpose of such investigations—to prevent future deaths—will continue to be undermined. The original version of the duty, put forward in the Criminal Justice Bill, applies only to police officers. Do the Government agree that it is important that this is fixed, whether in this Bill or a future criminal justice Bill?

Institutional defensiveness has been found to be a pervasive issue in inquests and public inquiries. It causes additional suffering to bereaved persons, creates undue delay to inquests and inquiries, undermines public trust and confidence in the police and undermines the fundamental purpose of inquests and inquiries—to understand what has happened and prevent recurrence. Establishing a statutory duty of candour would go some way to addressing these issues.

In her 2017 review of deaths and serious incidents in custody, Dame Elish Angiolini concluded:

“It is clear that the default position whenever there are deaths or a serious incident involving the police, tends to be one of defensiveness on the part of state bodies”.


Additionally, the chair of the statutory Anthony Grainger inquiry, His Honour Judge Teague KC, concluded that it was his

“firm view that an unduly reticent, at times secretive attitude prevailed within Greater Manchester Police’s Tactical Firearms Unit throughout the period covered by the inquiry”.

Compelling co-operation with a statutory duty of candour would enable inquests and inquiries to fulfil their function of reaching the truth to make pertinent recommendations which addressed what went wrong, and to identify learning for the future.

Failure to make full disclosure and to act with transparency can also lead to lengthy delays as the investigation or inquiry grapples with identifying and resolving issues in the dispute at a cost to public funds and public safety. A statutory duty of candour would significantly enhance the participation of bereaved people and survivors, by ensuring that a public body’s position was clear from the outset, limiting the possibility of evasiveness. I beg to move.

Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester
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My Lords, I rise to speak to this amendment to which I have added my name. I declare my interest as co-chair of the national police ethics committee.

Before turning to the amendment, I follow other noble Lords by recording the deep gratitude of both myself and many in the Church for the wisdom and friendship of Lord Cormack. On behalf of both the party he served and the Church he loved, over so many decades, Patrick wonderfully embodied that concept of “critical friend” which is so vital to the functioning of all institutions. We were all better for his wisdom and friendship, and we all learned much from his challenges. He may not have been subject to a duty of candour, but that never stopped him from being very candid in expressing his views. We will miss his contributions, here and elsewhere greatly.

The former Bishop of Liverpool advocated for a duty of candour in his report on the Hillsborough disaster, The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power. That title tells its story. His report was produced over six years ago; a duty of candour was finally contained in the College of Policing’s Code of Practice for Ethical Policing in the last two months, for which I and many others are deeply grateful.

The amendment would require public authorities, public servants and officials to undertake a duty of candour. By placing a general duty of this nature on a statutory footing, the participation of bereaved people and survivors in the justice system would be enhanced. Inquest describes an

“endemic culture of delay, denial and institutional defensiveness from public authorities and private corporations that bear responsibility for the health and safety of the public”.

We do not always get it right in the Church, either.

As Bishop of Manchester, it fell to me to help lead my city and diocese in their response to one of the worst terrorist incidents on UK soil in recent years. I believe that we responded well—so well that we have been able to help other cities around the world that have faced similar tragedies since. However, when it came to learning lessons—discovering what had gone less well—we found ourselves hampered by the natural reluctance of public bodies to share their failings. This is not about finding guilty parties to blame; it is about learning from the events that happen.

A duty of candour would help to move the emphasis away from reputation management in the wake of crises, towards supporting victims, their families and survivors. I was delighted to learn that we now have such a duty in the code for policing, but it seems to me that exactly the same arguments apply to the other services involved in seeking to forestall or respond to major incidents. I contend that it is not enough for just the College of Policing to introduce this duty, although that is indeed a welcome step; we need a more general duty that extends to a far wider range of public bodies.

15:30
Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, I have signed the amendment and it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester.

The 2013 Francis report set out the failings of the Mid Staffordshire hospital trust, explaining exactly why there needed to be a duty of candour. It said:

“This was primarily caused by a serious failure on the part of a provider Trust Board. It did not listen sufficiently to its patients and staff or ensure the correction of deficiencies brought to the Trust’s attention. Above all, it failed to tackle an insidious negative culture involving a tolerance of poor standards and a disengagement from managerial and leadership responsibilities. This failure was in part the consequence of allowing a focus on reaching national access targets, achieving financial balance and seeking foundation trust status to be at the cost of delivering acceptable standards of care”.


That could apply to many of the issues that we have debated in this part of the Bill on major incidents. Regulation 20—the duty of candour brought in across the NHS in 2015—was defined as

“the volunteering of all relevant information to persons who have, or may have, been harmed by the provision of services, whether or not the information has been requested, and whether or not a complaint or a report about that provision has been made”.

I will refer to that duty of candour in today’s debate on a later amendment.

The CQC points out that we must remember that there are two types of duty of candour—the statutory and the professional—both of which

“have similar aims—to make sure that those providing care are open and transparent with the people using their services, whether or not something has gone wrong”.

The implementation of the duty of candour covering the NHS applies to all healthcare providers, registered medical practitioners, nurses and other registered health professionals where there is a “belief or suspicion” that any treatment or care provided by them or their trust

“has caused death or serious injury”.

It is important for the NHS that it is for people who are registered, as it is with the police. If we ask to broaden it, and we do, we need to think carefully about who it should cover, because these people must be accountable—probably through registration.

Although it is a decade since the duty of candour was introduced, serious incidents, including death and injury, have continued in the NHS. Responsible hospital trusts and providers, as well as the individual regulated healthcare professionals, all know that they will be held accountable to this standard. As was described by the two previous speakers, it is a no-fault system which overcomes the old problem that saying sorry implies legal responsibility. It sets out a standard for declaring that there is a problem as soon as someone—anyone—is aware, and, where used correctly, it reduces the agony of victims and their families facing the block of institutional silence. Where it is not used, the CQC will inspect and consider why.

I support the proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that the duty of candour should cover public authorities, public servants and officials at major incidents, and they should follow it. Just think if the NHS had used the duty of candour for victims and families of the infected blood scandal, or if the police had used it in relation to Hillsborough instead of blaming the fans, or if it had been used by the council and other bodies involved in the fire at Grenfell Tower. However, just as importantly, the duty of candour changes organisations so that, where possible, they think before the event, which can also prevent major incidents. Staff put the safety of people first in all that they do. It will not prevent all major incidents, but it can either reduce or stop the consequences of a potential disaster and make the aftermath much easier to live with.

Lord Bellamy Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bellamy) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and all noble Lords who have spoken to this amendment, which would place a statutory duty of candour on all public authorities, public servants and officials in relation to a major incident. This is, if I may say so, a modified version of the Public Authority (Accountability) Bill that was previously put forward, which is known as the Hillsborough law, so the underlying question here is: should we have in statute, in one form or another, a Hillsborough law?

There is much common ground between us. At no point are transparency and candour more important than in the aftermath of a major incident. As the Government said in their Statement of 6 December in response to Bishop James’s 2017 report, it is of the highest importance to combat

“unforgivable forms of institutional obstruction and obfuscation”

and the “inexcusable … defensiveness” of public bodies in “their own self-interest”. We agree with Bishop James, and indeed with the speakers today, that what is needed is a change of culture. The question is: what is the best and most effective route to bring about that change?

In essence, for the reasons already set out in the Government’s Hillsborough Statement on 6 December and the debate that day in your Lordships’ House, the Government do not believe that this amendment, applying to officials across the whole public sector, would be an appropriate or effective way to prevent a repeat of the failings that occurred in the aftermath of Hillsborough. First, as a general point, a central feature of a case such as Hillsborough, and other similar cases, is the imbalance of power between the authorities on the one hand and the bereaved on the other. The creation of the independent public advocate for a major incident—who will no doubt pursue the victims’ interests with terrier-like determination, I hope—will go a long way towards rebalancing that previous imbalance of power and securing equality of arms. I suggest that the institution of the IPA is in itself a lasting tribute to the Hillsborough families who have campaigned to ensure that no other families ever have to suffer in the same way.

In addition, still on the equality of arms point, the Government have removed the legal aid means test for exceptional case funding for inquests and will consult on expanding legal aid for inquests where an IPA is appointed or terrorist offences are involved. Cabinet Office guidance will reaffirm the expectation that legal expenditure by public authorities should not be excessive and should be published. Again, those matters should go a long way towards rebalancing the position between the various parties.

The second point, which I think the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Manchester was, in a sense, already making, is that the Government have already tackled directly the central failure in the aftermath of Hillsborough, which was a failure by the police. As noble Lords will be aware, in 2020 the Government introduced a statutory duty of co-operation for individual police officers to ensure that they participate openly and professionally with investigations, inquiries and other formal proceedings. A failure to co-operate is a breach of the standards of professional behaviour and could result in disciplinary sanctions, including dismissal.

In the Criminal Justice Bill that was introduced in November 2023, which I hope will be before your Lordships’ House before too long, the Government are placing a statutory duty on the College of Policing to issue a code of practice relating to ethical policing. In advance of that, as has been mentioned, the Code of Practice for Ethical Policing, was laid in Parliament on 6 December under existing powers alongside the Government’s response to Bishop James’s report. That code, directed at chief constables, includes a duty to ensure candour and openness in the forces that they lead, to ensure that everyone in policing is clear what is expected of them and to provide confidence to the public that the highest standards will be met. That will be monitored, and chief constables will be monitored, by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services and by local police and crime commissioners.

A further area of concern, which the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, referred to, relates to the NHS. One notes the Francis report of some years ago, and there are continuing concerns, for example, around events at the Countess of Chester Hospital that are the subject of a statutory inquiry by Lady Justice Thirlwall. There is already a duty of candour on the NHS under the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014 that covers everybody who is registered with the Care Quality Commission. The Government are reviewing that provision to see whether it is working properly. There may be details to discuss around exactly who it should cover and collaboration with the General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council to ensure that the professional standards march in line with the statutory standards—that may be a matter for investigation—but, in principle, in the NHS, those duties already exist.

The same is also true, in effect, for statutory inquiries under the Inquiries Act 2005, backed by criminal penalties. It refers to court proceedings, where full disclosure is required of all litigants under well-established principles, and a duty of candour is expected by public authorities, notably in judicial review. For inquests, coroners have powers under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 to obtain documents, administer oaths and question witnesses. There is a Ministry of Justice protocol that was specifically revised following Bishop James’s report, which requires government departments and lawyers to approach inquests with openness, honesty and full disclosure. A range of matters is already covered, so that leaves non-statutory inquiries, which the chairperson can request are converted into statutory inquiries in the event of obfuscation or non-cooperation. The Government feel that, in effect, the ground is already sufficiently covered in a very targeted way.

As for public servants working in central government, the Government have already reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring openness and transparency, as set out by my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister when signing the Hillsborough Charter on 6 December 2023. The commitments in the charter are reflected in the existing framework of obligations and codes that apply to all those who work in government, such as the Civil Service Code, the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers and the Ministerial Code, to which we can add that public appointees to the boards of UK public bodies are subject to the Code of Conduct for Board Members of Public Bodies, which, in turn, incorporates the Nolan principles. Those matters, in the Government’s view, reveal a quite comprehensive coverage of the issue that we are discussing.

The Government also consider that the amendment in its present form would be practically unworkable, applying as it does directly to all public officials who may be involved in the context of a major incident. It would apparently require maybe dozens of officials, junior as well as senior, to come to individual and autonomous views on whether, for example, a particular document was in scope, or irrelevant, or privileged or covered by national security or whatever. That could easily give rise to many difficult and conflicting views, making the whole process almost impossible to manage and drawing civil servants into conflict with each other and their employers.

For those essential reasons, the Government do not feel that this is an appropriate way forward. The speakers in this debate did not raise the Post Office, which in some ways colours a lot of the background to this. On that point, I can say that the proposed legislation on the Post Office is clearly being driven by some very serious incidents of prosecutorial misconduct in breach of existing rules. We do not need new rules; they did not follow the old rules.

15:45
Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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It is good to see the Minister back in his place; we are pleased to have him back and I am very grateful for his comments. He mentioned the Post Office. I spoke about the importance of culture and making sure that things do not happen. While he is absolutely right on the legal side, there is an issue about the personal duty of candour that changes behaviour. Does he recognise that?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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Yes, the Government recognise that up to a point. What we are discussing is the right way to get there. The Government are not convinced that this statutory amendment is the right way, but there are other ways of doing it, through our codes and the provisions that we have for the NHS, the police and now the Hillsborough charter—the matters that have been mentioned.

I cannot go into specific detail on the Post Office, because we do not know what has happened, but the duty on a prosecutor to follow the codes that they must follow is a duty on that individual. I will not go any further than to make that comment.

Finally, in the spring, the Government hope to publish their response to a report by the Law Commission on reforming the common-law criminal offence of misconduct in a public office. We have to await that response to see whether it bears on the issues that we are discussing. With those points made, the Government recognise the sensitivity of and differing views on this matter. The Lord Chancellor’s Oral Statement on 6 December said, very explicitly, that we will keep it under review. While legislation alone and the Government’s view cannot ensure a culture of openness, honesty and candour, we do not rule out bringing forward legislation at some future point if we are persuaded that it is needed. The matter is still under reflection, from that point of view.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, summed it up, really: while this is a probing amendment, it is about changing the culture and behaviour of organisations. I was talking to my noble friend Lady Thornton during this debate. She sits on an NHS trust and was saying that a culture is embedded in the way that the NHS practises its procedures now, which has come from it having a duty of candour for the last 10 or 11 years. The Minister made other points about addressing the same issues, so it is not as though one set of responses precludes another, such as the duty of candour.

Of course, I am pleased that the Lord Chancellor has said that he will keep an open mind on this and keep the matter under review. I acknowledge the Minister’s points about creating the independent advocate role, the review of legal aid and individual professional standards, which are being looked at, but none of them precludes also having a duty of candour. That was the point made by all who spoke in support of the amendment. Nevertheless, I thank the Minister for his response and beg leave to withdraw Amendment 133.

Amendment 133 withdrawn.
Clause 39 agreed.
Amendment 133ZA not moved.
Clause 40: Compensation for victims of the infected blood scandal
Amendment 133A
Moved by
133A: Clause 40, page 37, line 15, after “must,” insert “on behalf of the United Kingdom Government,”
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I too have signed Amendment 133A, which is a probing amendment and states that the Secretary of State will be acting on behalf of the United Kingdom Government when they establish the body to administer the compensation scheme for victims of the infected blood scandal.

Amendment 133B stipulates that payments made under Clause 40 must be fully funded by the Treasury. In anticipation of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, Amendment 134 is intended to probe how and when compensation payments will be made to victims of the infected blood scandal.

I acknowledge the letter that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, sent to us—and the constructive meetings we have had—advising that there may be future amendments coming forward on Report. For now, I beg to move.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, I start by recognising that one of the people who wanted to speak to this amendment is not in his place. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, told me he was going to speak, and his death over the weekend leaves a large gap, not just in Parliament but for the victims of the infected blood scandal and their families, whom he supported.

He said in the Commons on 13 November 1989:

“No one can give back to these victims the hope of a normal life that was once theirs. No one can remove the uncertainty with which they and their families live from day to day—the uncertainty of when the bell will toll. If any group of people live in the shadow of death, they do. It is no wonder that their story has been described as the most tragic in the history of the NHS ... I hope that we shall have a full and good answer from the Minister, but whatever he says, unless he agrees to our request, the campaign will go on and we shall not go away.”—[Official Report, Commons, 13/11/89; cols. 153-55.]


Patrick, we shall go on. May you rest in peace.

I thank the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for his letter, and for the meeting we had to discuss this amendment and Clause 40. I hope he will have better news for your Lordships’ House today. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, on Amendments 133A and 133B, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, which talk about payments for the infected blood scheme being arranged on behalf of the UK Government and paid from the UK Treasury. It is right—this scandal has been going on for approaching 50 years, since long before devolution, and therefore it is inappropriate for Scotland and Wales to have to foot the bill for something that is clearly the responsibility of the UK Government.

Clause 40 of the Bill was an amendment laid by Dame Diana Johnson MP in the Commons and it won cross-party support in a vote. It requires the Government to establish a body to administer the compensation scheme for victims of the infected blood scandal. The clause is the original wording of the Infected Blood Inquiry’s second interim report, recommendation 13, and incorporates recommendations 3 and 4.

My probing Amendment 134 was also laid in the Commons, but, unfortunately, there was no time to debate it. It would ensure that an interim compensation payment of £100,000 is made in respect of deaths not yet recognised—specifically ensuring that, where an infected victim died, either as a child or as an adult without a partner or child, their bereaved parents would receive the compensation payment. Where an infected victim has died and there is no bereaved partner but there is a bereaved child or children, including adopted children, the compensation should be paid to the bereaved child or children, split equally. Where an infected victim has died and there is no bereaved partner, child or parent, but there is a bereaved sibling or siblings, they should receive the compensation payment.

It should be noted that the wording is the original wording of recommendation 12 of the Infected Blood Inquiry’s second interim report. It is also very helpful that both the Welsh and Scottish Governments have written to the UK Government to support the compensation in advance of the inquiry reporting in May. On 18 December last year, the Paymaster General, John Glen, made a statement raising expectations, but unfortunately provided no information on when a compensation body would be established, let alone when interim payments in respect of unrecognised deaths might be made.

Both Clause 40 and this amendment are only the latest attempts to move government—not just this Government but many Governments of differing political parties—into sorting out and paying the compensation that is due to these groups of people, whose lives over the last four decades have been severely affected or destroyed by acts of the NHS, and therefore also by the Government, which used infected blood to treat haemophiliac patients through factor 8, as well as for those receiving whole blood transfusions.

The numbers are grim. Just under 5,000 people with haemophilia and other bleeding disorders were infected with HIV and hepatitis through the use of contaminated clotting factors. Some unknowingly infected their partners. Since then, 3,000 have died. Of the 1,243 infected with HIV, fewer than 250 are still alive. Many thousands who had full blood transfusions in the 1980s and 1990s were infected with hepatitis. Some people may not even know that they were infected as the result of a transfusion.

I thank all the victims and family members who have written to me. I cannot do them and all the different campaigning groups justice in the short time today. They have been victimised time and again by the NHS and by Governments fighting them and all other victims over the years—sometimes, I am afraid, with lies and prevarication. I pay particular tribute to two indomitable women who are still campaigning after 30-plus years. Colette Wintle and Carol Grayson were part of a small group that in 2007 sued four pharma companies—Bayer, Baxter, Alpha and Armour—in the US, who had used contaminated blood from prisoners to make factor 8, which the NHS bought and used without any warning to patients and their families. The American judge acknowledged that the pharma companies had used infected blood but disallowed the case on a technicality, saying that the duty of care for patients in the UK lay with the NHS and therefore the UK Government. But the Government did nothing.

An independent and privately funded Archer inquiry, which reported in 2009, was followed by Theresa May setting up the full public inquiry, chaired by Sir Brian Langstaff. He has issued two interim reports, with the final report due in May this year. In the middle of all of that, Sir Robert Francis also completed a report on the structure of compensation, which was published in March 2022, with which Sir Brian agrees and which he has built into the recommendations of his second interim report. That report, published last year, is an extraordinary read. No Minister or official can ignore the clear language and recommendations, evidenced by witnesses to the inquiry, that show decades of government and NHS wilfully ignoring their responsibilities and lying to victims and their families.

The Government have also recently announced that Sir Jonathan Montgomery, as the chair of the group of clinical, legal and social care experts, will give the Government “technical advice on compensation”. Unfortunately, this has not helped their relationship with the victims. First, there is concern that this group will also slow down any process of compensation, and secondly, the chair, Sir Jonathan Montgomery, a well-respected ethicist, has links with Bayer, one of the four pharma companies that sold infected blood to the NHS.

Disappointingly, Ministers have recently said in Oral Questions that they will not start until the Government have considered Sir Brian’s final report. We know that it usually takes at least six months for the Government to formally respond to an inquiry report when it is published, so can the Minister tell us whether they will now change this and move swiftly to make the compensation happen, as Sir Brian recommends?

16:00
I want to end with the voice of these victims. It is too easy to talk about the history of the scandal without understanding the reality of their lives. Sir Brian’s inquiry heard Jason Evans’s experience, who was four when his father died from HIV. He said,
“it just marked every aspect of life. And, you know, I’ve now lived my dad’s entire lifespan and I’m sat here. So it’s blanketed my entire existence”.
When asked whether he had ever been offered counselling or psychological support, he said:
“No, never. And I think the thing that is particularly despicable to me is, okay, now I’m 31. But as a child … a four, five, six year old kid, how did I not have bereavement counselling? How was it never offered?”
Lauren Palmer e-mailed me. She says:
“Growing up I was a little sister to two older half-brothers in what seemed like a relatively normal family. Unknown to us, my father was co-infected with HIV and Hepatitis C via his Factor 8 … but my father had also regrettably infected my mother.
In 1993, when I was just 9 years old, both my father and mother passed away from their infections, within 8 days of each other … I was heartbreakingly separated from my two brothers … and my life and my family were completely torn apart …
It emotionally destroys me on a daily basis that both my parents’ lives have not yet been recognised when others (rightly) have. The children and parents of victims are having to fight tirelessly, for decades to be discarded with countless ‘empty promises’ of responses from the government, which have no course for action, it is degrading and greatly disrespectful!”.
Colette Wintle and Carol Grayson also had to face years of illness and the deaths of their husbands. One reported that they were not told that one of the family victims had died. His mother was not permitted by the hospital to stroke his head. Years later, they found out that was because his brain and body parts had been removed, without seeking permission from the family. His brain was finally buried, with his brother, also infected, when he too died as a result of receiving factor 8.
Colette and Carol, along with thousands of other victims, have been lied to, pushed away and denied justice by officials. This is also coming out in the inquiry. No wonder Sir Brian is urging the Government to ensure that they start right now with expanding the scheme to include affected persons, implementing interim payments and moving as fast as possible to a full settlement.
The noble Lord, Lord Waldegrave, had hoped to be able speak today. Like Lord Cormack, he had acted on this in the Commons, and I know he has told the Minister that the Government must follow Sir Brian to the letter or face immense disappointment and dismay.
This Government say they are doing everything at pace for the Post Office Horizon scheme, with most settlements paid in full by August or as soon as possible thereafter. The victims of the infected blood scandal deserve no less.
Baroness Featherstone Portrait Baroness Featherstone (LD)
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My Lords, I apologise for not having been in the Chamber at Second Reading.

Thousands of people have died because of Governments’ and officials’ lies and obfuscation about the contaminated blood scandal. This Government, and every Government for the past 40 years, should be ashamed. Perhaps this Government should be more ashamed than all because, when we finally got the long campaigned for and long literally begged for public inquiry—I praise Theresa May for initiating that inquiry—the chair, Sir Brian, said in terms what the compensation should be and that it should be paid swiftly. Unbelievably, the Government are still prevaricating. I hope they are not hoping to limp on to the next election. We need to do better to stop obfuscation and delay, and make the amends that can be made, although nothing will ever make up for what has happened. My noble friend Lady Brinton’s speech was extraordinary and laid this out far better than I can. We can never bring back the 3,000 who have died and those who are dying every single day while this is delayed, nor undo the suffering experienced by this 40-year agonising wait for justice.

I declare an interest. My nephew Nicholas Hirsch, one of my sister’s twin boys, was a haemophiliac and contracted hepatitis C. He died aged 35, leaving a 10 month-old baby daughter. Every family that has lost a loved one is in the same position. Those who are still living need to live to see justice, and the families of those who have died need to see justice. The time being taken is obscene, inordinate and cruel. The rubbish being pumped out by the Government about waiting for the final bit of the inquiry is intolerable. Sir Brian, the brilliant chair of the inquiry, has made it crystal clear that there is no need and no time to wait. Quite frankly, we should not need a TV series and public outrage to be the motivation for the Government to do the right thing.

I have been trying over the years to get redress on the issue. I remember going with Lynne Kelly, head of Haemophilia Wales, to meet Chris Wormald, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, to show him the proof of obfuscation and lies. He lied to us there and then, and then he lied in writing—a lie for which he later apologised in writing, and which I submitted in evidence to the inquiry. It was shameful how many lies were told by officials to victims, as well as to the parents and families of those who were contaminated. The very least the Government can do is to act, right now, before any more victims die.

Before I sit down, I want to pay tribute to all the campaigners, fighters and families who have sought justice. In particular, I thank the Labour MP Dame Diana Johnson, who has been chair of the APPG and fought so hard on this, as well as Jason Evans from the campaign organisation Factor 8.

It is important to be clear beyond doubt and lay responsibility where it lies: at the Government’s door. These amendments make it clear that the Government are responsible for fully funding payments, that they should set up the body that will administrate this on their behalf, and that they must put on the record how and when this will happen, and stop prevaricating that they need to wait for the final report. For decency, for honour and for compassion, I ask the Government to please do the right thing and do it now.

Baroness Campbell of Surbiton Portrait Baroness Campbell of Surbiton (CB)
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My Lords, before I begin, I too pay tribute to the late Lord Cormack. He was a consummate parliamentarian, but he was also my friend, and he taught me so much when I arrived in the House. Equally, he gave terrific support on disability issues; on every occasion, he was very supportive.

I support Amendment 134, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I declare an interest, as my first husband, Graham, had haemophilia and received infected blood products. As a result, he contracted both hepatitis C and HIV. We learned of this only after we had become engaged. Graham died 30 years ago, on 19 December 1993, aged 32. We had been married for only six years.

I apologise that my health prevented me speaking at Second Reading. As I was directly affected by the infected blood scandal and gave evidence to the inquiry, I hope your Lordships will forgive this late intervention.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, addresses a matter of profound importance to the thousands of us infected or affected by the shameful events that devastated the lives of so many. Your Lordships will remember that, in July 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May ordered a fully funded independent inquiry into how contaminated blood transfusions infected thousands of people with hepatitis C and HIV. She also allocated £75 million to be available for interim payments to victims still living and bereaved families. Yet only two months ago, some seven years on, the distinguished chair of the inquiry, Sir Brian Langstaff, expressed his frustration with delays in setting up a compensation scheme. He said:

“The Inquiry’s final recommendations on compensation were published in April 2023. My principal recommendation remains that a compensation scheme should be set up with urgency”.


The Government accept the “moral case for compensation”, but these words are meaningless if actioning the inquiry’s recommendations is further delayed.

It was in 1987 that Graham, then my fiancé, and his younger brother Anthony were first told that they had HIV from factor 8 clotting agents. Anthony was first to die, leaving a widow and a one year-old daughter. Graham endured five years of misery, a barrage of associated illnesses, including pneumocystis pneumonia, epilepsy and intermittent blindness. He died 18 months after his brother. It must have been unbearable for him to watch what he knew was in store for him, but his courage took my breath away.

I count myself lucky. I eventually found a way to move on, enough to lead a good, purposeful life after Graham died, but the memory and the flashbacks do not fade. Thousands of other affected families have not been as fortunate, with the personal cost of the past ever present and haunting. Many wives of infected men lost their childbearing years. Parents and countless partners gave up jobs to care for loved ones at a time when HIV/AIDS was stigmatising and isolating. There have been over 3,000 deaths to date, with an average of one more every four days.

The Government have rightly accepted more responsibility for their part in the tragedy, but they have procrastinated in establishing a compensation scheme. Not content with the guidance given by Sir Robert Francis, who was specifically appointed to make recommendations for compensation, the Cabinet Office has now appointed Sir Jonathan Montgomery to chair a group of experts to decide who gets what. Not surprisingly, the infected blood community is concerned, given Sir Jonathan’s past links with two bodies implicated in the scandal, and unhappy about yet a further delay.

According to the chair of the Haemophilia Society,

“it has caused huge anger and upset in the community. We certainly haven’t been consulted and neither have any other members of the community as far as I am aware. This is now the third knight to be asked for his opinion on it. First, Sir Robert Francis. Then Sir Brian made his recommendations in his interim report. They are now asking for a third time. It feels like they want to keep asking the same questions until they get an answer they like”.

I hope the Minister will tell us how this latest “body of experts” on compensation will involve members of the infected blood community, whose lived experience makes them experts too. The need for such involvement is a consistent theme of Sir Robert’s report if trust is to be restored. So, in the spirit of transparency, will the Minister let your Lordships have sight of the membership and terms of reference of this new expert group? Can he also give an approximate timeline of when compensation will be paid? As the Government insist on waiting for the final inquiry report to be published on 20 May, will the Minister at least assure this House then that a compensation scheme will be ready to go live afterwards?

Every year, on the anniversary of my late husband’s death, I visit St Botolph’s church in the City of London. It has a remembrance book with the names of hundreds of haemophiliacs who have died from infected blood products. Each year, I see pages of new entries. Surely this example alone should galvanise the Government into compensating those still living as soon as humanly possible. Each delay means countless more deaths without the comfort of knowing that justice has been served for the infected victims, and their affected partners and children.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, I express my strongest possible support for all the amendments in this group. I congratulate the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Campbell, on their powerful speeches. As president of the Haemophilia Society for many years, I have met many of the victims infected in this appalling blood scandal. Many have died before any compensation was paid to them at all. Many others soldier on with the support of their families.

We have all been moved by the Post Office scandal, but in my view far too little has been heard of the very different but equally devastating suffering of the people given infected blood, many of whom were already suffering from a serious condition. As we know, their health-wise suffering was different from that of the Post Office staff. The great thing about these amendments is that they provide clear deadlines and clear government responsibilities.

16:15
Amendment 134 provides for the £100,000 interim compensation payment to be made to the nearest relatives of victims
“within one month of the passing of this Act”,
in line with Sir Brian Langstaff’s report—no ifs, no buts. That is what these people need; they have waited too long. Amendment 133A would ensure that the body to administer the full and final compensation scheme will be established on behalf of government and be fully funded by the Treasury. All at the Haemophilia Society will be monitoring the progress of that body, to make sure that it sticks to its brief.
We are talking about contaminated blood imported from the US as early as the 1970s, often having been taken from prisoners with HIV and hepatitis C. It was not checked, yet it was given to innocent sufferers—people already suffering with conditions, as I have said. This was some 50 years ago, yet we are still talking about compensation for the widows and children of these victims. I am sure that we will return to these issues on Report and I really implore the Government, as well as the House, to support the tenor of these amendments.
Lord Bichard Portrait Lord Bichard (CB)
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My Lords, I too speak in support of Amendment 134. I have to apologise, for I am afraid I was unable to attend Second Reading. I speak on this amendment as someone who has spent a good deal of time in the last couple of years chairing one of the expert advisory groups for the infected blood inquiry, looking at public health and administration. As a result, like some other Members of this House, I spent a day at the inquiry giving evidence. That day made a huge impression on me, as I know it will have done on others. It made a huge impression not least because there was an audience of dozens of victims, who had suffered grievously for years and decades. They have shown immense courage, determination and resilience in the face of what the chair, Sir Brian Langstaff, has rightly said were serious failings over decades that

“led to catastrophic loss of life and compounded suffering”.

As chairman of an expert advisory group, it was not for me to draw those wide conclusions but I was able to see from the evidence—and draw my own conclusions—that during that period there had been multiple breaches of the Nolan principles and the conventions that preceded them, and multiple breaches, I am sad to say, of the Civil Service Code. In other words, the state let these people down time and again, and the state should now provide restitution without any further delay.

There is one other reason why I am supporting this amendment: because I feel that not to do so would make me complicit in what now seems to be the way in which the state, in all its forms, responds to failings such as this. We delay accepting responsibility for as long as we can. We defend the indefensible. We place the reputation and interests of institutions and the system above the interests of the people who have been harmed. We set up inquiries, which inevitably delay action. I am not in any way criticising the way in which Sir Brian has led the infected blood inquiry; it has been exemplary, and he has done a fantastic job. We then design unnecessarily complex systems for claiming compensation. We do not do this once; we do all that time and again. It happened with Windrush, Grenfell, the Post Office and, probably most heinously of all, the infected blood inquiry.

We have reached a stage where these responses themselves are a breach of the Nolan principles of public life. Let me remind the Committee that these principles include integrity, accountability, openness and leadership. This amendment seeks to change the responses and rebuild the public’s trust in the way in which we govern. It needs to be done quickly, because the inquiry report will come out in May, and it will receive phenomenal attention. It will either further undermine the public’s faith in government or, if we take this action now, perhaps people will believe that we are changing things through action and not through words.

Lord Owen Portrait Lord Owen (Ind SD)
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My Lords, 1975 was a long time ago. I am getting on in age now, and I wondered if I would ever see the day when the decision I announced to the House of Commons with money attached—that we would go for self-sufficiency in blood products—would be honoured, at least in a way so that some of the relatives of the many people whose lives have been lost would feel some sense of satisfaction. I could make a very long speech on all those who have fought this fight with honour, dignity and integrity. They belong to all political parties; it very soon became a cross-party campaign.

I also want to make a few things clear. We knew about this earlier than 1975. A very remarkable book, The Gift Relationship by Professor Titmuss, identified the problem of the blood coming into our country from places in which there were absolutely no safeguards and very few questions you could ask about somebody’s past health. At that time, we had no way of finding out whether blood was infected with hepatitis, for example. We had to ask a simple question as a method of trying to find out whether a blood donor was suitable: we would ask if they had ever been yellow—ie, had their liver ever been affected so that they were jaundiced and, as likely as not, had been infected with hepatitis. It was as crude as that.

I want to make it clear that, through the years in which blood products which doctors knew might be infected were being used, they had an agonising choice. They had to explain the risks to the patients. Sometimes there were children who were not able to understand it, so the issue was put to the parents, who had to juggle these very difficult and complex medical facts. The paediatricians and haematologists had to do their best to explain the risks to them, without really knowing.

When I first began to look at this question, I wondered whether we could get away with having a complete ban on blood products. It soon became clear that, if we did that, we would not be able to give blood products that might well not be contaminated to a very substantial number of patients. Let us remember what the situation is. Eventually, we got a product that parents could inject at home. That meant that, if a child had fallen and was bound to bleed into their knee, arm or elsewhere, they could give the injection straightaway and the child would likely not suffer any serious damage—but that was actually one of the worst products to give. These choices were being made against this background of a lack of knowledge—but nothing explains the refusal of successive Governments to pay compensation to those affected. Nothing explains the delay, which meant that, when AIDS came, we still had no blood of our own—we were not self-sufficient with blood very likely not to be contaminated, although even then we could not be absolutely sure that it would not be contaminated.

What I would have said would have been much stronger, more vehement and angrier if not for the circulation of a letter from the noble Earl, Lord Howe, to us about this debate. I have known him in many different guises, and I know him to be a man of honour. Frankly, when I read this letter, I do not need any more assurances that there will not be any unnecessary delays. I believe his words are carefully chosen, and I think he understands, like many people from his own party and people who have been responsible for healthcare, that there can be no more ducking and weaving, and no more appeals from the Chancellor to delay it for another year or anything like that. This time, we have to honour it—and we have to do it this year.

The report will be available on 20 May, and everybody will be able to read it. Judging by the day’s evidence I gave, I think that it will be a searching and honourable report. Given the device in the House of Commons of attaching it to the Bill—of course this was a device—and now given the Government responding to this device by trying not to dismiss it but to make it more precise and effective, that battle seems to be over. We can be sure that this year—in a matter of months—payments will be made. I hope that can be made clear from the Front Bench. Nobody comes out of this with a lot of distinction, but I only say: let us read the report. I suspect a lot of people will feel very ashamed.

Lord Horam Portrait Lord Horam (Con)
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My Lords, the Committee listened with great interest to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and the honourable part he played in this tragic situation. I was a Minister of Health much later, between 1995 and 1997, and I had to struggle with problems with the Treasury and getting reasonable compensation for the victims—the infected and the affected—as he said. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for raising this issue today so that we could have a debate of this kind. It is necessary, and we should keep pressing.

I was appalled by the Statement by John Glen before Christmas in the other place. It was one of the emptiest Statements I have heard from a Minister in that situation. It was as though the Government were just going through the motions of giving a Statement because they had committed themselves to doing so, without having anything at all to say, which is extremely disappointing. I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Howe for having much more sensible and positive things to say in his letters so far. We hope he can follow those up.

16:30
The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, put his finger on something very important: namely, the way we handle all these sorts of problems, not only the tragedy of this particular case, and the length of time taken by these inquiries. This inquiry was actioned in 2017 and started in 2018, so it has been going for over six years—we won the Second World War in less time—and we still do not have an end date, although we hope it will be this May. The Swedes took one year to do a Covid inquiry; we will take God knows how many years on ours. How long are we taking on Grenfell? How long did we take on Chilcot? It is ridiculous that we take so long on these things. The Government should pay attention to how we handle their length and complexity. At maximum, we should take two years to deal with these issues. That is long enough to come to some clear conclusions and get positive evidence. I hope the Government will take that into account as well as all the other important issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Owen.
Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann (Con)
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My Lords, I apologise to the Committee that I was not available to speak at Second Reading. I had not intended to speak and will not delay the Committee long, but I add my plea to my noble friend the Minister that this is finally resolved. The speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the examples given by the noble Baronesses, Lady Featherstone and Lady Campbell, should speak for themselves. As a tribute to Lord Cormack, who campaigned on this issue for so many years, it would be fitting if my noble friend could give us concrete reassurance from the Front Bench that this injustice will, finally, be properly remedied.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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My Lords, this group of probing amendments, which have the aim of ensuring decent and necessary payments to all those bereaved in this disastrous scandal, has given the Committee the chance to consider the appalling plight of the victims of the infected blood scandal.

We welcome Clause 40, in particular Clause 40(3)(a), which says that:

“In exercising its functions, the body must … have regard to the need of applicants for speed of provision, simplicity of process, accessibility, involvement, proactive support, fairness and efficiency”.


It is only to be hoped that the Government live up to the promise of that clause in future, because they have signally failed to do so in the past.

If this Bill has taught us anything, it is that all victims of crime, major incidents and appalling and deeply shocking medical errors such as this, as well as other administrative disasters such as the Post Office Horizon scandal, have so many needs that resemble each other. We need early admissions of responsibility and culpability. We need government and administrative bodies to face facts. We need to ensure that victims have early access to the services and support they need and that such services and support are in practice provided in full and in good time.

Of course, one of the tragic aspects of this scandal is that the need for speed is particularly severe. It is worth reminding ourselves that, since Sir Brian Langstaff’s interim report of April 2023, more than 70 victims have died. The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, gave evidence to that inquiry, as did the noble Lord, Lord Owen. Both spoke eloquently of its conduct, and it is worth remembering the conclusion of the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, that the state let people down and should accept responsibility. He spoke of defending the indefensible, and the noble Lord, Lord Horam, echoed his words. Delaying compensation is denying responsibility. As all noble Lords who have spoken have said, there is no reason at all to wait any longer—certainly not until the Government have digested at length the contents of Sir Brian’s final report. Any such delay would be a travesty of Sir Brian’s principal call, which was for urgency.

Sir Robert Francis’s recommendations, in his report in June 2022, on the way that compensation should be handled, along with Sir Brian’s report, now need urgent implementation. It is to be hoped that the work of the expert panel—established under the chairmanship of Jonathan Montgomery, who is the chair of Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, which was not a mile away from involvement in the crisis—does not delay or water down the recommendations of the two reports. It is right to say that the campaigners are deeply concerned, as the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, stressed.

In opening the debate, my noble friend Lady Brinton and the noble Lord, Lord Owen, pointed out the strength and determination of this very long campaign. We mourn Lord Cormack, whose involvement in the campaign was also extensive and long lasting.

The noble Lord, Lord Owen, spoke of the difficulties facing doctors, and the lack of political will needed to ensure self-sufficiency in blood products in this country. We can only hope that the noble Lord’s optimism in expecting the Government now to react quickly and finally, following the report due in May from Sir Brian Langstaff, is justified. My noble friend Lady Featherstone and the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, added their accounts of personal tragedy, and thereby movingly added to the demand for urgency.

We know that the Horizon case led to definitive action only following ITV’s television drama. It should not be the same with the infected blood scandal, but we understand that ITV has commissioned Peter Moffat to write such a drama, so perhaps public opinion will come to the rescue once again. The burden of my speech, and the speeches of all noble Lords who have spoken today, is that this should not be necessary in a civilised and compassionate democracy.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, in arriving, as we now have, at Part 3 of the Bill, I should like to begin by thanking all noble Lords who have spoken so powerfully and movingly on a set of events which many regard as constituting the worst disaster in the history of the National Health Service. The story of those who received infected blood as part of their NHS care and treatment is one of unimaginable suffering and terrible tragedy over more than four decades. It is a story that is still not yet over. The victims’ suffering has been made even worse by an absence of full justice for those individuals and, alongside that, a failure to reach—as far as may be possible—a sense of closure.

The official public inquiry currently under way, under the chairmanship of Sir Brian Langstaff, is the start of delivering the justice that is needed. The inquiry has been informed by the expert work of Sir Robert Francis, and Sir Brian has so far published two interim reports on his findings, with his final report due on 20 May. Meanwhile, in the other place, Clause 40—as it is now—was added to the Bill to speed up the delivery process.

The Government accept the will of Parliament that arrangements should be put in place to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that the victims receive justice as quickly and efficiently as possible. Therefore, my desire—and, I trust, that of all noble Lords—is to see the Bill added to the statute book as soon as is reasonably practicable. The Government are well aware that every passing season sees more suffering, death and bereavement. We are therefore eager to avoid more needless delay.

Ministers have already taken action and given a number of undertakings. First, we have promised that within 25 sitting days of Sir Brian Langstaff’s final report being published, we will make a Statement to Parliament setting out the Government’s response. The period of 25 days is not a target but a deadline. We will issue our response as soon as we possibly can.

Secondly, in response to a recommendation from Sir Brian, we have made interim payments amounting to £440 million to infected individuals or bereaved partners registered with existing infected blood support schemes.

Thirdly, in readiness for Sir Brian’s final report, we have appointed Sir Jonathan Montgomery to chair an expert group whose remit is to advise the Government on some of the legal and technical aspects of delivering compensation. I realise that some have questioned Sir Jonathan’s appointment because of his former connection with Bayer. Noble Lords may wish to note that Sir Jonathan ceased to be a member of the Bayer bioethics council on 31 October 2023. The council was an independent advisory group which had no role in the day-to-day operations of the company. It has had no executive power in the operational business of Bayer.

I emphasise that nothing in the work of the expert group is intended to cut across the conclusions of the inquiry or the advice of Sir Robert Francis—quite the opposite, actually. The expert group is there to enable Ministers to understand certain technical issues and thus enable decisions to be taken more quickly.

On the amendment passed by the House of Commons, which we are now considering, noble Lords will understand that the provisions of any Bill need to be legally coherent and should not cut across the integrity of the statute book. There are two principal defects with Clause 40: first, its coverage does not extend to the whole of the United Kingdom. The Government are clear that infected blood is a UK-wide issue. For that very reason, the infected blood inquiry was set up on a UK-wide basis. In March 2021, we announced uplifts to achieve broad financial parity across the UK’s infected blood support schemes, increasing annual payments to beneficiaries across the country as a whole. Maintaining a commitment to parity across the UK is extremely important.

We also need to agree on a set of arrangements that are workable and, above all, work for victims. It is therefore essential for the UK Government to engage with all the devolved Administrations with those aims in view. That is what we are now doing. My right honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office met counterparts from the Welsh Government, Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive earlier this month to discuss this matter; those discussions will continue.

The second principal defect of Clause 40 is that in proposing the establishment of an arm’s-length body, as Sir Brian recommended, it does not also propose any specific functions for that body. The Government’s intention, therefore, is to bring forward an amendment on Report which will correct these two deficiencies and add further standard provisions to ensure a more complete legal framework when setting up an ALB. I plan to engage with noble Lords in advance of Report to discuss the content of the government amendment once it has been drafted.

16:45
That drafting is not yet complete. One of the main reasons for this—which I personally felt strongly about—was that we should use this Committee stage as an opportunity for a general debate on the infected blood scandal and, in advance of Report, for the Government to be made aware of the views expressed by noble Lords from around the Chamber. I hope the Committee will agree that this was a reasonable approach.
My remarks thus far, have, I hope, given some reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, as regards Amendments 133A and 133B. I listened carefully to the noble Lord’s speech, and I entirely appreciate the concerns that he has raised. I have already made it clear that it is our aim is to achieve parity of treatment across the entire UK. However, in the light of what I have said, I hope the noble Lord will understand why I cannot at this stage say anything about the funding of compensation. In regard specifically to Amendment 133B, it would not be appropriate for the Bill to seek to override the existing processes that are in place to secure His Majesty’s Treasury funding. I cannot provide further reassurances at this stage, other than to say that the UK Government have accepted the moral case for compensation.
I now turn to Amendment 134, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I am grateful for this amendment, which seeks to probe—as she made clear—how and when interim compensation payments will be made to affected victims of the infected blood scandal. Many noble Lords will, I am sure, share the noble Baroness’s sense of urgency—expressed equally powerfully in the other place—on the need to deliver justice swiftly to the victims of the infected blood scandal.
Victims of infected blood have suffered terribly over many years, and that distress has been compounded by the financial uncertainty that they have faced. The Government recognise the imperative of providing justice for these victims as soon as is reasonably possible, and we are well aware that many have short-term needs. Interim compensation of £100,000 to those infected, or their bereaved partners, registered with the existing infected blood support schemes was paid in October 2022 for precisely that reason.
I realise that the noble Baroness would like us to go further, faster. The need to move quickly and provide certainty is being taken very seriously. In advance of the Government’s formal response to the inquiry—which, in turn, depends on the publication of the final report—regrettably I cannot commit to specifics as regards the cohorts of those individuals identified in the amendment, or provide answers to questions around eligibility generally. I wish it were otherwise.
I cannot yet overcome a legal impediment either. The interim payments made from October 2022 have been made through the current infected blood support schemes, which are run separately in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The schemes can make payments only to people registered with one of them. To extend interim payments to the cohorts identified in this amendment would not be possible across the UK as a whole, because the legal powers to register, and make payments to, the new cohorts do not exist.
Indeed, the alternative to registering individuals with existing schemes is making payments through a new arm’s-length body, as defined by Clause 40. I heard the concerns around a delay and procrastination, but Sir Brian has recommended setting up an arm’s-length body. Establishing such a body is a significant undertaking for the Government; unfortunately, there are processes that cannot be expedited, including the appointment of staff, the procurement of any required IT systems and ensuring that there is proper accountability to both the Government and Parliament for expenditure of public funds. That takes a certain amount of time to achieve, with the best will in the world.
Against that background—again, I wish that matters were otherwise—I regret that I cannot commit to a timetable or comment on the scope of any further interim payments at this time. However, I come back to what I emphasised earlier: the Government’s twin priorities are certainty and speed. With those aims in mind, I assure the Committee that the government amendment on Report will have the desired effect of speeding up the implementation of our response to the inquiry’s findings. To provide further reassurance to the noble Baroness—
Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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The Minister mentioned that there will be government amendments on Report to address the deficiencies in Clause 40 that he has identified. Does he envisage having the opportunity, between now and Report, to prepare amendments to address some of the other legal impediments—for example, to widening the cohorts—that he has identified? That could accelerate clarification and speed up the process.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I anticipate using every opportunity available to engage with noble Lords on not only what the amendments will comprise but what we intend to do thereafter. As the noble Lord will appreciate, there is a wealth of regulations in this space. I venture to say that quite a lot of the detail of the arrangements will be contained in regulations, which will be laid as soon as possible. To the extent that I can go into detail on what those regulations will contain, I shall be happy to do so, but I hope that the noble Lord will understand that I am not in a position to do so today.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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I apologise for interrupting the Minister. He referred to the payment of £100,000 to a lot of people in 2022, but is he aware that the whole point of Amendment 134 is to fill the gaps for all the people who did not receive an interim payment? When he referred to speeding up their response to the Langstaff inquiry, that was a verbal commitment, as I understand it. The point is that these people need an urgent payment of £100,000; as I understand it, they have not received any compensation, so it is urgent. We are talking about something that happened 50-odd years ago. The idea that we still need more time cannot be right, so I hope that the Minister can reassure us that absolutely everything will be done to get a payment of £100,000 out to the groups of people who have not yet received compensation—immediately and within a month of the passing of the future Act, as the amendment says.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I perfectly understand the noble Baroness’s strength of feeling on this long-standing scandal. It may be of some reassurance to her if I repeat the words of my honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office in the other place, who said in December:

“The victims of the infected blood scandal deserve justice and recognition. Their voice must be heard, and it is our duty to honour not only those still living and campaigning but those who have passed without recognition”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/12/23; col. 1147.]


I met the Minister for the Cabinet Office to discuss these matters. My right honourable friend assured me that this is indeed his highest priority, and I undertake to the Committee that I will continue to work closely with him ahead of the next stage of the Bill.

I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions to the debate and for highlighting so compellingly the issues that bear upon this appalling human tragedy. Ministers will reflect carefully on all that has been said. I hope my response has provided the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, with enough by way of assurance—although I wish I could reassure them even further—about the Government’s intended course of action to enable the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment and for the other amendments in the group not to be moved when they are reached.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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Before the Minister sits down, I would like to ask him a couple of questions. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Marks, who asked exactly the question I wanted to know about: what is going to happen between Committee and Report?

In other instances, it has been quite speedy to set up a shadow body—after all, the Government now know how to do it. Is there any capacity to start setting up a shadow body that will be ready to go?

We do not yet know the timetabling for the Report days, but clearly Members of the Committee are going to need to see the Government’s amendments in enough time, particularly—to pick up the point raised just now by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher—to try to address the deficiencies if those who are not currently included remain so.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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On the noble Baroness’s latter point, I hope to have extensive discussions with noble Lords about the Government’s amendments and their intended and literal effect.

On setting up a shadow body, I myself asked that very question. There are some issues here. I am advised that it would not save any time. There are still a number of decisions to be made on the government response to infected blood, and clearly we cannot pre-empt those decisions by establishing an arm’s-length body without clarity on what its precise functions or role would be. As I have said, our intention is to table amendments on Report that will correct the defects in Clause 40 and have the desired effect of speeding up the implementation of the Government’s response to the inquiry.

However, I will take that point away to make sure that there really is no advantage in not having a shadow body. The Government have done that before in other circumstances and it is worth thoroughly exploring as an option. I think I will be told that any idea of a shadow body would need to be considered alongside its interaction with the passage of the legislation and the Government’s response to the recommendations of the second interim report, and indeed the report as a whole, but I hope the noble Baroness will be content to leave that question with me.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, this has been an important debate. In fact, I go further: it has been a historic debate, because in a relatively short debate we have had the noble Baronesses, Lady Featherstone and Lady Campbell, who spoke about very close relatives who have been affected by this tragedy; we have had the two noble Lords, Lord Bichard and Lord Owen, who gave evidence to the inquiry; and the noble Lord, Lord Owen, in his speech, went back the furthest, if I can put it like that, to 1975. There are Members who have spoken in this short debate who have tracked this issue for the many decades that it has lingered.

Nobody is questioning the best intentions of the noble Earl, Lord Howe; he has been involved in this issue in a number of ways over many years. My amendments are essentially probing amendments, and I acknowledge the letter that the noble Earl has sent to us. We will not press the amendment, but I was going to ask the same questions as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about process. The Government have said they will table amendments on Report, and the Minister said there will be an opportunity for noble Lords to see the amendments before then and to discuss them, but we may want to table amendments to his amendment and we will want to make sure we have ample time to do that. I know the noble Earl understands that point, but I repeat it from these Benches as well.

17:00
This has been a comprehensive discussion of the issues. The essential point is that all noble Lords want to reach a conclusion and start distributing funds as soon as practicable. It is for a sense of decency that the Government, aided by all opposition parties, must achieve this. As a number of noble Lords have said, it is the worst scandal in NHS history. It is incumbent on us all, on all sides of this House, to make sure that the matter is concluded as quickly as possible. I beg to leave to withdraw Amendment 133A.
Amendment 133A withdrawn.
Amendment 133B not moved.
Clause 40 agreed.
Amendment 134 not moved.
Amendment 135
Moved by
135: After Clause 40, insert the following new Clause—
“Victims of the Horizon system: timetable for compensation payments(1) Within seven days of the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must publish a timetable for making payments in respect of schemes or other arrangements to—(a) compensate persons affected by the Horizon system;(b) compensate persons in respect of other matters identified in High Court judgments given in proceedings relating to the Horizon system.(2) In considering a timetable under subsection (1) the Secretary of State must have regard to the importance of speed and fairness to victims of the Horizon system.(3) In this section “the Horizon system” means previous versions of the computer system known as Horizon (and sometimes referred to as Legacy Horizon, Horizon Online or HNG-X) used by Post Office Limited.” Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires the Secretary of State to publish a timetable for the payment of compensation to victims of the Post Office Horizon scandal.
Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, I tabled Amendment 135 some weeks ago, after there seemed to be some difference in timing for the compensation scheme for those sub-postmasters who were accused of stealing, prosecuted and convicted, lost their jobs and their homes, were made bankrupt, lost future employment and, worse, lost their relationships; some were so distressed that they took their own lives. This House has debated this issue a lot, and I will not go through the detail, even of the compensation schemes, because I believe that they are familiar to many people in your Lordships’ Committee, unlike the previous group.

On Saturday the Times reported that more than 250 of the affected sub-postmasters have already died. Like the infected blood compensation scheme that we discussed in the debate on the last group, time really is of the essence. The amendment says that within seven days of this Bill passing,

“the Secretary of State must publish a timetable for making payments in respect of schemes or other arrangements”,

both for those affected by the Horizon scheme and in relation to

“other matters identified in High Court judgments”

about the Horizon scheme. It emphasises that speed and fairness must be priorities, echoing the points the Prime Minister made last month. The amendment also refers to the scope of the Horizon scheme, including its predecessors and successors.

It is important to state that the High Court was absolutely clear that any prosecution that relied on Horizon is unsound. It was worrying that on 9 January this year the chief executive of Post Office Ltd—or POL—wrote an email that was published last week, stating that POL believed that around 360 sub-postmasters were probably guilty; that is, in POL’s view, the prosecution was not totally reliant on Horizon. I am afraid that this letter shows that the culture inside POL has not changed, and that is truly shocking.

The evidence to the public inquiry demonstrated that POL’s approach to investigation and prosecution was unfair and inappropriate, because POL was the victim, the investigator and the prosecutor. It often denied postmasters access to information that they needed for their defence, which is against our court rules.

Last week the press reported that POL has now instigated an “independent investigation” by retired police officers into the behaviour and actions of POL investigators. Can the Minister assure your Lordships that it will be a truly accountable and independent investigation whose results will be fully published, unlike POL’s behaviour with Second Sight, which it commissioned to investigate the sub-postmasters and Horizon? It was then gagged and sacked when it uncovered the truth. While it is good that these prosecution powers will not be used again, can the Minister confirm that this group of victims—the 360 who the chief executive of POL says are probably guilty—will still be fully eligible for compensation in line with others?

On the compensation schemes, yesterday’s Sunday Times reported that some former postmasters are still waiting to hear from POL about their claim. There is a simplified form now, 14 pages long, with 100 supplementary questions that remain—as on the previous form—absolutely impenetrable. They make clear that POL fails to believe certain claims about hardship, personal injury, harassment and mental health. Some are being asked for specific documents going back over two decades. I am not sure that I could put my hands on my P60 from two decades ago.

The guidance clearly states that POL is supposed to accept some claims, even when it does not have the exact detail. I quote from the guidance:

“Where the postmaster is unable to satisfy the burden of proof in relation to their claim, their claim may nonetheless be accepted in whole or in part if the Scheme considers it to be fair in all the circumstances”.


But POL is not telling the postmasters what is fair. Once again, it is using its powers to hobble these victims.

I will not go into the detail of the three schemes. We understand why they are different and we debated them in some depth when, on 16 January, the Post Office (Horizon System) Compensation Bill went through all stages for quick enactment. My concern is that, despite promises from the Dispatch Box in both Houses that the scheme would be simpler and accept a wider range of damages, including the elements I just outlined, unfortunately, in the hands of POL once again, the exact opposite seems to be happening.

I do not seek to open personal cases in Committee, but there are enough postmasters now saying that POL is offering them only a very small fraction of the actual losses suffered by them as compensation. Some, including Alan Bates, have said that they have been offered a sixth of their claim. This is outrageous. Can the Minister say whether the Government have oversight of these issues and how they can be resolved?

At the Post Office (Horizon System) Compensation Bill Second Reading, I mentioned a scheme that Dan Neidle, who runs Tax Policy Associates, thought would be most fair. He is an expert in compensation and taxation, and he made two or three points that have not been picked up in the compensation schemes as they are currently being run.

First, all applicants should receive a grant for legal advice. This is particularly vital when complex forms have to be completed and official data needs to be found. He also thought that there should be a large fixed amount when it is confirmed that they are a victim of the scheme, whether convicted or not. That would remove the current shameful divide between different types of cases for those convicted and those imprisoned. He thought that figure should be considerably higher than £100,000, but that is entirely up to the compensation scheme and the Government to agree.

There should also be—this is part of the fog from POL—an amount that reflects their loss of earnings from the day they could no longer work, the loss of the home and any subsequent loss accruing from that, their pensions and any amounts relating to specific damage above and beyond that outlined in previous areas. I mention this because it is exactly the sort of detail that sub-postmasters need to see laid out in a very clear form, which they are still struggling to find.

Last week, I asked a question of another Minister following either a Statement, an Oral Question or a PNQ. I note that, on page 93 of the Green Book for the 2023Autumn Statement—and in the chart on page 84—it says:

“Post Office Compensation Schemes, Corporate Entities … The government will legislate in the Autumn Finance Bill 2023 to exempt from Corporation Tax compensation payments made under the Historical Shortfall Scheme, Group Litigation Order schemes, Suspension Remuneration Review or Post Office Process Review Scheme. The legislation will align the taxation of onward payments of compensation to that of individual recipients”.


It is interesting that we have had, just before Christmas, regulations relating to taxation for both the Horizon scheme and the infected blood scheme in one set, so the Government can put the two together if they so choose to do. However, I cannot find anywhere in the Green Book the £1 billion that the Government say they have set to one side to pay for the compensation. It is not visible in the Treasury elements or BIS bits. Can the Minister show me where it is? I am not expecting him to do so this afternoon, but this is the second time I have asked about this and had no answer. I want to know where in the government books it is being held and whether the whole £1 billion is being held.

Over the past two weeks, the Independent has been gathering reports on one of the two predecessor programmes to Horizon, known as Capture. In 2003, June Tooby discovered that she was being sued by POL for £50,000 in a case that dated back to 1994 and bears many similarities to the Horizon scheme. She was not alone; other sub-postmasters from that era were also sued and bankrupted by POL. Sadly, June has now died. Can the Minister say whether sub-postmasters prosecuted as a result of the Capture scheme will also be covered by the Horizon scheme? It is a predecessor, after all, and we know that sub-postmasters were asking Ministers as early as 1997 about problems with the IT systems that were the predecessors to Horizon.

Finally, can the Minister please resolve the issue around the timings of the completion of the compensation scheme, as currently outlined? On 10 January, the Prime Minister said in Prime Minister’s Questions that the sub-postmasters will be cleared and compensated swiftly. On the same day, Kevin Hollinrake MP said at the Dispatch Box that all compensation should be paid by August, barring those where a few details are not completed. However, on 28 January, the Secretary of State, Kemi Badenoch, said on the BBC that the deadline of August was not a priority and that getting governance sorted out at the Post Office was more important. I do not want to get into the arguments that she and Henry Staunton have been having over the past few days but this urge to get the compensation sorted remains an absolute priority for the victims. Can the Minister say who is right? Equally importantly, will the Government unblock the logjam inside the Post Office over what is a fair claim, which was the other key element of the announcements made at the beginning of the year?

I beg to move.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, I was pleased to put my name and that of my noble friend to this amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, has given us a comprehensive introduction to this issue. Given that this is an issue of current discussion across the country, there is not much point in me going into detail on the rights and wrongs, as well as the injustices, that we all know the Horizon scandal involved. It is shocking; it is a scandal that we should all be aware of and seek to remedy as quickly as we can.

This amendment and the one before show that this Bill is important because of its inclusiveness—I look to the commissioner—and it is not the first time I have said that in this discussion. It is very important that, in the course of the Bill, we recognise the different sorts of victims that there are in terms of the way the state has behaved, the major catastrophes that people suffer, and the issues of the courts and our justice system. That is all to the good because we will, I hope, end up with an Act that will really serve victims in all of those areas well.

17:15
The important point about this amendment is this: it is clear that cover-ups and bad behaviour have been rife throughout the Horizon scandal. Dealing with those must not stop the compensation and the justice that the victims need. We must be able to go forward from this point to make sure that those victims get the compensation they need as quickly as possible. Although this may not be quite the right amendment—they are often not—I encourage the Minister to tell us, as he did in the previous discussion, how the Government intend to take this forward in a positive fashion.
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for her amendment, which, as she explained, would require the Government to publish a timeline for the payment of interim payments for victims of the Horizon scandal. As she knows, the amendment takes us back to a subject that the House has discussed several times in recent weeks. In all parts of your Lordships’ House, there is a strong desire to see justice for the victims of the Horizon scandal—in particular, to see them receive prompt financial redress. The Government share that desire.

The effects of the scandal on some postmasters have been, to put it at its mildest, truly awful. Some of them have lost their livelihoods, their homes or their health—or even all three. Others have faced serious financial impacts. The noble Baroness’s question is therefore extremely pertinent.

For reasons of history, there are three separate compensation arrangements in place; I hope that the Committee will allow me to put them on the record. One is for people who have had convictions for criminal offences overturned. A second, which is delivered by the Department for Business and Trade rather than the Post Office, is to top up the compensation settlement for unconvicted postmasters made at the end of the original so-called GLO High Court case, which exposed the scandal. The third—the Horizon Shortfall Scheme or HSS—is for postmasters who were neither in the GLO group nor convicted.

In two of the streams, we have recently announced fixed offers of settlement: £600,000 for those with overturned convictions and £75,000 for the GLO group. These fixed offers allow postmasters to receive substantial compensation without delay or hassle. Of course, those with larger claims will not generally want to accept these sums. They will instead, quite rightly, have their compensation individually assessed. For both groups, substantial interim payments are made promptly. Further payments are available to those facing hardship while their full claims are being assessed. We have undertaken to make first offers within 40 working days of receiving a completed application for the GLO scheme.

The HSS is already well advanced. All 2,417 of the people who applied by the original scheme deadline have had initial offers. More than 2,000 of them have accepted settlements and been paid. Late claims are still coming in—some stimulated by the ITV drama, in fact—and are being dealt with promptly.

However, two crucial drivers of the pace of compensation are not controlled by either government or the Post Office. First, the overturning of convictions has, of course, been in the hands of the courts, and it has been frustratingly slow. We believe that more than 900 people may have been wrongly convicted in this scandal, but, to date, only 97 of them have had their conviction overturned. The process has been not only slow but uncertain. In too many cases, the evidence has been lost or destroyed over time, and many postmasters have understandably lost all faith in authority and cannot face the prospect of yet another court case to clear their name.

That is why, on 10 January, the Government announced that they will be introducing legislation to overturn all the convictions resulting from this scandal. We recognise that this is an unprecedented step, but it is necessary if justice is to be done. I can tell noble Lords that, this afternoon, my honourable friend in another place has made a Statement about that legislation. We hope to introduce this legislation within a few weeks. I am sure that it will be widely supported across the House and in the other place, and that it will therefore be able to progress quickly. We hope to see it become law before the summer, with prompt compensation to follow.

That takes me to the second area where we do not have control of the timescale: postmasters and their lawyers need time to formulate claims and gather evidence, with some needing specialist reports from medical or forensic accounting experts. Setting arbitrary deadlines for the submission of claims would, I suggest, be deeply unfair to postmasters, and we therefore should not do it.

That is why the House recently and enthusiastically passed the Post Office (Horizon System) Compensation Bill, which implemented the Williams inquiry’s recommendation to remove the arbitrary deadline of 7 August 2024 to complete the GLO compensation scheme. It remains the Government’s goal to complete that scheme by August, but if postmasters need longer, that is fine.

The Government are determined to see financial redress delivered as quickly as possible for all postmasters, including those whose convictions will be overturned by the forthcoming Bill. However, setting a fixed timetable would entail rushing postmasters into major decisions about their claims and the offers they receive. I hope that, on reflection, the noble Baroness agrees that we should not do that, and will therefore feel able to withdraw her amendment.

The noble Baroness asked me a number of detailed questions. If she will allow me, I will write to her as fully as possible in response to her particular questions about legal advice, the Green Book, the logjam of claims and a number of others.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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I am grateful to the Minister for his response. As ever, it was thoughtful and very helpful.

I laid the amendment principally because it seemed to me that there were two issues. The first was about everything being done, where possible, by August, which seemed encouraging but clearly is not going to be hit in many cases. The detail that I gave to the Committee in the speech is what worries me more: there seems to be a chasm between Post Office Ltd and the postmasters about what is eligible in damage. I do not think it is just about whether people can get access to information, because of this proviso. I will be grateful for any letter, but would the Minister be prepared to meet between Committee and Report to discuss the detail? The most urgent thing, from their perspective, would be a grant for legal advice, given the complexity of applying. If that can be speeded up in any way, shape or form, that would be enormously helpful.

I suspect I will bring something back on Report, though probably not the same thing at all. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 135 withdrawn.
Amendment 136
Moved by
136: After Clause 40, insert the following new Clause—
“Review: National Oversight Mechanism(1) The Secretary of State must launch a review into the merits of introducing an independent National Oversight Mechanism responsible for collating, analysing and addressing recommendations arising from the post death processes of investigations, inquests, public inquiries and official reviews following a major incident.(2) The review under subsection (1) must be launched within six months of the day on which this Act is passed.(3) The Secretary of State must publish and lay before Parliament a report summarising the findings of the review under subsection (1) within 18 months of the day on which this Act is passed.”
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, this is a probing amendment to enable debate on the concept of a new national oversight mechanism. The amendment proposes:

“The Secretary of State must launch a review into the merits of introducing an independent National Oversight Mechanism responsible for collating, analysing and addressing recommendations arising from the post death processes of investigations, inquests, public inquiries and official reviews following a major incident”.


With regard to public inquiries, there is no legal mechanism to require consideration, action or reasoned rejection of a recommendation made in the course of a statutory inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005. In other words, recommendations made by a statutory public inquiry or a non-statutory inquiry have no legal force on the Government, public authorities, corporations or anyone else.

With regard to coroners’ prevention of future death reports, a large proportion of public bodies that receive recommendations fail to respond, and analysis using the Preventable Deaths Tracker developed by researchers at the University of Oxford found that only 33% of all PFDs issued by coroners had expected responses published, with 29% of responses overdue. Further, the researchers found that response rates to PFDs examined in 25 of their studies ranged only from approximately 10% to 60%, with no study resulting in a 100% response rate.

The Grenfell fire is a shocking example of this accountability gap. In 2009, the Lakanal House fire killed six people in a 14-storey tower block in Camberwell. Following the inquest into their deaths, the coroner, Frances Kirkham, made recommendations to the Secretary of State, the Mayor of London, the London Borough of Southwark and London Fire Brigade. These included making crucial improvements to building regulations, control room and incident command system training, awareness of the risk posed by cladding fire, and guidance on high-rise residential evacuation. In 2017, the Grenfell Tower fire killed 72 people in a 24-storey tower block in North Kensington. The Grenfell Tower inquiry exposed the fact that many of the Lakanal House recommendations were not implemented before the fire. Implementation was not considered to be urgent and was instead included in a medium to long-term programme of work.

During the inquiry, Dame Melanie Dawes, the former Permanent Secretary at the Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government, told the inquiry that

“there was no tracking recommendation put in place, something that I think was really important and there should have been”.

The lack of a mechanism was described as a gap in the Civil Service that

“could have happened in any department”.

The department itself stated that it missed the opportunity to look beyond recommendations and consider the widespread use of non-compliant materials on high-rise buildings and the associated risk of fire. That is just one example.

To address this accountability gap, the lobbying group Inquest, through me, is calling for the Government to establish a national oversight mechanism, which would be an independent public body responsible for collating, analysing and following up on recommendations arising from four post-death processes: investigations, such as those carried out by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, the Independent Office for Police Conduct or serious incident reviews; inquests; public inquiries; and official reviews into deaths, such as the Angiolini review into deaths and serious incidents in police custody. Inquest has put forward a mechanism by which this could be achieved, through the collation, analysis and follow-up of the data.

This amendment calls for a review into the processes and merits of creating such a mechanism. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response and hope that he will commit to undertaking such a review. I beg to move.

17:30
Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, I am really grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for raising this issue and laying this amendment. I declare my interest as the vice-chair of the All-Party Fire Safety and Rescue Group so his comments about the Lakanal House and Grenfell Tower fires really chime with me. From these Benches, my noble friends Lady Pinnock and Lord Stunell have both raised these issues repeatedly.

It is really important to remember that one of the big lessons that I hope we will now begin to learn from Grenfell Tower and the many other fires before it rests in Dame Judith Hackitt’s report on the construction industry and Grenfell Tower. She talked about the importance of the “golden thread” through every part of the construction. The same is true when things go wrong and it seems to me that a national oversight mechanism is exactly the golden thread that we need to ensure that we do not have to time and again relearn the lessons of disasters after they have happened. From these Benches, we support the amendment.

Lord Roborough Portrait Lord Roborough (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for this amendment and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for speaking in support. The amendment would require the Secretary of State to conduct a review into whether to establish an independent national oversight mechanism to collate, analyse and address recommendations from investigations, inquests, public inquiries and official reviews following deaths after a major incident.

In 2014, the House of Lords Select Committee published a post legislative scrutiny report on the Inquiries Act 2005. In their response, the Government agreed with the principle that bodies should set out their plans for implementing recommendations directed at them. When an inquiry’s recommendations are directed at the Government, it is the responsibility of the lead department to determine how best to progress and implement the recommendations. An official review would follow the same principles.

Parliament has a crucial role in scrutinising the activities of government departments. Select Committees, in particular, hold individual departments to account, including in their response to recommendations made by statutory and non-statutory inquiries and reviews. The Government remain of the view that Parliament already has the ability to hold government departments to account on their response to and implementation of recommendations and that Parliament is best placed to carry out this function.

Noble Lords will also be aware of the Statutory Inquiries Committee that was set up by the Lords Select Committee very recently. It has been appointed to consider the efficacy of the law and practice relating to statutory inquiries under the Inquiries Act 2005. It may be well placed to consider the merits of an independent national oversight mechanism for statutory inquiries.

Turning to inquests, a coroner has a statutory duty to make a report to prevent future deaths if action should be taken to prevent or reduce the risk of future deaths. Recipients of PFD reports must respond to the coroner within 56 days of receipt, setting out what actions will be taken, or explaining any not taken. The Government in their response to the Justice Committee’s 2021 report committed to consider the merits of a recommendation to establish a national mechanism to ensure that actions highlighted in PFD reports which could contribute to public safety and prevent future deaths are implemented. The Justice Committee is currently undertaking a follow-up inquiry into the coroners service and will revisit this issue; the Government are due to give evidence shortly.

In response to some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and backed up by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, recipients of PFD reports, as I say, must respond to the coroner within 56 days. However, it is not the coroner’s role to review whether—and if so what—actions should be taken in response to a report. This would be inconsistent with their status as independent judicial officers.

The Government in their response to the Justice Committee’s 2021 report committed to consider the recommendation to establish a mechanism to ensure that actions in PFD reports which could contribute to public safety and prevent future deaths are implemented. The Justice Committee’s follow-up inquiry into the coroners service will revisit issues around PFD reports on preventing death and improving public safety.

While I understand the intent to ensure that the merits of setting a national oversight mechanism are considered, it is likely this would duplicate ongoing parliamentary inquiries into these matters. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw this amendment.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this very brief debate. I want to pick up a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about the golden thread of establishing a mechanism to ensure that any findings which come out of either public inquiries or coroners’ reports are tracked through and implemented.

I quoted a civil servant as saying that the established mechanisms have not worked, and the example I gave was of the cladding on Grenfell Tower. The Minister spoke about considering whether to establish a mechanism for reviewing PFD reports and coroners’ reports. When will that review be complete and does the noble Lord believe that that review will adequately establish some sort of overall mechanism for dealing with coroners’ recommendations?

To circle back a bit to the public inquiries point, the Minister said that Parliament is best placed to carry out the functions of public inquiries and look at recommendations. I have to say that I really cannot think of Parliament looking at cladding issues. There needs to be a more systematic way of dealing with these matters to ensure that there is that golden thread that the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, talked about, so we have some comfort that these processes are being properly reviewed and implemented. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 136 withdrawn.
Clause 41: Public protection decisions: life prisoners
Amendment 137
Moved by
137: Clause 41, page 39, line 26, leave out from second “the” to end of line 27 and insert “Divisional Court of the King’s Bench Division”
Lord Burnett of Maldon Portrait Lord Burnett of Maldon (CB)
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My Lords, in the absence of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who is abroad at the moment, I move this amendment and will speak to the others in this group, save for Amendments 146A, 174 and 175 which stand in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.

Clause 44 enables the Secretary of State to refer a decision of the Parole Board to release what is known as a top-tier prisoner for a judicial decision either to affirm or to quash a decision of the Parole Board. Top-tier prisoners are those who have committed the most serious offences. The Bill identifies the Upper Tribunal as the court to which referrals will be made, save in cases where there is sensitive material, in which case the court is the High Court.

The principal amendment in this group, which would amend Clause 44, is to propose that all referrals go to the High Court; in particular, a

“Divisional Court of the King’s Bench Division”.

The other amendments that we propose make necessary changes elsewhere. The reason for proposing these amendments is to ensure that the judicial decision is made by a court whose members are well equipped by experience to make the necessary assessment of risk.

The background is that the cases will necessarily involve serious offending and be referred by the Secretary of State because of at least an unease about the decision of the Parole Board. That Parole Board will be made up of individuals with considerable experience in evaluating risk in the context of criminal offending. Any review or reconsideration should be conducted by a court that comprises judges with similar such experience. None of the chambers of the Upper Tribunal currently has members with that necessary experience, but the High Court does.

A Divisional Court of the King’s Bench Division deals with criminal cases in the High Court. It is almost always composed of judges who sit in the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal; that is, a Lord or Lady Justice and a High Court judge. Those judges have extensive criminal experience; in particular, when dealing with sentencing, either at first instance as trial judges or on appeal. They are used to making decisions which require them to evaluate risk and, in particular, whether an offender is a dangerous offender, which leads to a suite of different sentencing options. In those circumstances, they are well suited to the task which the Bill will empower the Secretary of State to require a court to undertake.

The Bill itself envisages that the High Court will perform this role in some cases. This amendment suggests that it would be more effective, and deliver the outcome that the Bill seeks, were the High Court always to be the destination for these referrals. I beg to move.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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My Lords, I agree with every word uttered by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Burnett of Maldon. I am sure that the same words, or words to similar effect, would have fallen from the lips of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. They echo the sentiments of a number of those who have briefed noble Lords on these issues relating to the Parole Board.

I will be brief. There is one overriding principle, which is that the Parole Board should be, in effect, an independent, quasi-judicial body. A number of concerns have been expressed about the prospect of the Secretary of State having the power to refer decisions of the Parole Board to another body. One reason for the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady Hamwee, to which I will turn shortly, is that concern.

The idea that this jurisdiction to consider referrals by the Secretary of State should be a matter for the Upper Tribunal, which is not a body involved with the prison system at all—it has, as the noble and learned Lord pointed out, no relevant chamber—and is not concerned with the sentencing, treatment or release of offenders, is an odd one. That decision should plainly be, we would suggest, the decision of a court used to dealing with criminal justice and with the sentencing and imprisonment of offenders. Loosely stipulating that it should be the High Court, without the division named, or the Upper Tribunal is wrong.

17:45
The Divisional Court is plainly, as the noble and learned Lord has said, the appropriate body for the task. I invite the Minister to explain why the Bill, as drafted, allocated these cases to another body with no relevant experience or expertise when there is an obvious court to decide these cases—a view powerfully endorsed in these amendments by two former Lord Chief Justices with a great deal of experience and expertise in precisely this area.
In addition to my support for the noble and learned Lords’ amendments, I note that my noble friend Lady Hamwee has tabled amendments to Clauses 44 and 45, in relation to the whole question of the referral of release decisions by the Secretary of State to a court or the Upper Tribunal for life prisoners and fixed-term prisoners respectively. My noble friend is now here but both those amendments and the consequential amendments in her name would provide that the clauses should not come into force until the Secretary of State has laid a report before Parliament regarding their implementation.
Our suggestion is that this is a new process or procedure, which has not been adequately researched. It breaches the fundamental point: that the Parole Board is, in effect, a quasi-judicial body exercising an independent jurisdiction, whereas if the Secretary of State is going to have the power to refer it should be to a Divisional Court, as we have suggested. Before these clauses are brought into effect, there should also be a report laid before Parliament which it can consider. This departure would be delayed until that report had been laid and considered.
Lord Bach Portrait Lord Bach (Lab)
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My Lords, briefly, I support the amendments moved and spoken to in this group by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Burnett of Maldon, and the noble Lord, Lord Marks. I spoke on this matter at Second Reading and agreed with what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said in his speech then.

The Committee may know that, along with others, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Burnett of Maldon, I have put my name to later amendments that question the changes proposed by the Government to the Parole Board. In my view, those changes attack pretty fundamentally the independence of that board and allow the Secretary of State to interfere in these matters to an extent that affects the separation of powers. As a rule, I argue that it is never a good idea, however tempting for Governments, for the Executive to interfere with matters that should be the role of the judiciary. Taken as a whole, these changes are unnecessary and overcomplex, and will prove to be extremely costly.

Today, we are discussing the amendments so well put by the noble and learned Lord, who speaks with such huge authority; I am pleased to support them. They argue that the Upper Tribunal is entirely the wrong body to hear these cases. The Government would be well advised, with respect, to listen to him, and to remind themselves of the powerful speech made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, at Second Reading. It is not often that this House is privileged to have the support of the last two Lord Chief Justices on a matter that they are profoundly expert in. I ask the Minister, who is always very reasonable, to think very carefully about how powerful the case that has been made this afternoon is.

Of course, I strongly agree with the amendment spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, on the necessity of a report from the Secretary of State on the implementation of these proposals, which I consider to be pretty disturbing on the whole. I ask the Minister, when he replies, to consider carefully where these amendments are coming from.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, I will speak with the leave of the Committee and with many apologies; I was delayed in a committee. Amendment 143A is a probing amendment to seek to understand whether the Secretary of State will issue guidance on these matters, and if so, what that guidance will include. The Prison Reform Trust is particularly concerned about this, being aware that an overturned release decision would be likely to undermine public confidence in the parole system and so on. I am sure that the Minister will want all the actors in the sector to understand how these arrangements are intended to work and how they can be scrutinised.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, we also support this group of amendments. I want to reiterate the points made by my noble friend Lord Bach. You could not have had two more eminent Members of this Committee to table these amendments. The noble and learned Lords, Lord Burnett and Lord Thomas, are familiar with these types of decisions. I do not think I can add to the weight of the arguments put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Burnett.

The only point I will make is about process. If the Minister says that he wants to think about this—I do not know what he is going to say—then it would be very helpful to know his thoughts before Report. From what I have heard of the argument, it seems that the Government have an uphill battle trying to defend the current position. If the Government are minded to think about this again, we really need to know what that is before Report.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, the amendments proposed by the noble and learned Lords, Lord Burnett and Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, would mean that parole referrals under the new power in the Bill would be sent to the Divisional Court of the King’s Bench Division, which is part of the High Court, instead of the Upper Tribunal, which is currently used for most cases—although not for national security cases.

Noble Lords know that the Bill introduces a new power to allow the Secretary of State to refer a top-tier case—that is a case where the index offence was murder, rape, causing or allowing the death of a child, or serious terrorism—for a second check by an independent court if the Parole Board has directed release. The question is which court that should be. Noble Lords may recall that at one stage it was suggested—I think by a Select Committee—that it should be the Court of Appeal Criminal Division. The Government consulted the Judicial Office in June 2023. The result of that consultation was that a preference was expressed for the Upper Tribunal to hear those cases. The Upper Tribunal has wide-ranging powers under Section 25 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, facilitated by the Upper Tribunal rules, which essentially gives it the same powers as the High Court. It has experience of hearing oral evidence. The Government’s view, in the light of the consultation with the Judicial Office, was that the Upper Tribunal was the appropriate court.

None the less, the Government feel that it is obviously desirable to sort this issue out in a sensible way and I am very happy to consider it further. I am even happier to say that the Government’s reflections will be shared before Report, so that everybody can consider their position. There should not be any particular controversy on this kind of point; it is a rather specialised point, if I may put it like that.

I turn to the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and spoken to on her behalf by noble Lord, Lord Marks. The Government entirely agree with her that the processes ahead of us and how we are going to manage it should be very fully understood by all actors. I will briefly explain how the Government see things at the moment. First, the procedural elements of the new process may require amendments to the Parole Board rules and the tribunal rules—or the rules of whatever court we determine. That must be scrutinised by Parliament and go through a period of consultation. There will have to be a period of training of judges. We know that the referral process will need to be transparent and speedy. Work is currently in train as to how far this will be operationalised from the point of view, first, of maintaining public confidence and, secondly, on what basis the Secretary of State refers things to the relevant court—to use a neutral phrase for the time being.

Currently, the Government are working through exactly how the relevant tests would be applied. The Government propose to publish their policy on how the legislation will be applied, outlining how cases will be selected for referral and ensuring that prisoners, and importantly victims, are fully informed of who will be in scope. I envisage a transparent and open process by which the details of the new regime are sorted out.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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Could I follow that up before the Minister goes on to the next point? Does he anticipate that there will be consultation with the sector—it is a very big sector of course—on the various points that he has quite rightly referred to? That would go down rather better and be much more useful than producing a policy in its final form and saying, “Here we are”. A draft policy or ideas for consultation would be welcomed.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, I hear what the noble Baroness says, and it sounds entirely reasonable. I cannot, at the Dispatch Box, go any further than I have already gone, but the point is well made.

On that basis, I hope the Committee will be satisfied that the Government intend to be fully transparent and work co-operatively with the development of this new process.

18:00
Lord Burnett of Maldon Portrait Lord Burnett of Maldon (CB)
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I thank the Minister for his response. It is a delight to see him back in his place. I also thank those who spoke in support of the amendment put down by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, with my support.

I was intrigued by the Minister’s reference to consultation with the Judicial Office last June. I was, of course, in post as Lord Chief Justice then. For administrative purposes, the Judicial Office is the alter ego, as it were, of the Lord Chief Justice. It may well be—I put it no more pointedly than this—that Homer may have nodded in June, because I had thought that the proposal of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, which is supported by me and elsewhere, was not controversial. If there has been a mix-up in communication historically on that, I apologise, wearing my previous hat. I am grateful to the Minister for indicating that the Government will be prepared to consider this matter further. I am of course entirely at the Minister’s disposal to discuss any proposals that may commend themselves to the Government to be brought forward on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 137 withdrawn.
Clause 41 agreed.
Clause 42: Public protection decisions: fixed-term prisoners
Amendment 138 not moved.
Clause 42 agreed.
Amendment 139 not moved.
Schedule: Offences relevant to public protection decisions
Amendment 140 not moved.
Schedule agreed.
Clause 43 agreed.
Clause 44: Referral of release decisions: life prisoners
Amendments 141 to 143A not moved.
Clause 44 agreed.
Clause 45: Referral of release decisions: fixed-term prisoners
Amendments 144 to 146A not moved.
Clause 45 agreed.
Clause 46: Licence conditions of life prisoners released following referral
Amendment 147 not moved.
Clause 46 agreed.
Clause 47: Licence conditions of fixed-term prisoners released following referral
Amendment 148 not moved.
Clause 47 agreed.
Amendment 148A
Moved by
148A: After Clause 47, insert the following new Clause—
“Licence conditions for serial and serious harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators under Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements(1) A condition of the release and licence of serial and serious harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators must be included in the Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements.(2) The Criminal Justice Act 2003 is amended as follows.(3) In section 325 (arrangements for assessing etc risk posed by certain offenders)—(a) in subsection (1), after ““relevant sexual or violent offender” has the meaning given by section 327;” insert ““relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrator” has the meaning given in section 327ZA;”;(b) after subsection (2)(a) insert—“(aza) relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrators,”.(4) After section 327 (Section 325: interpretation) insert—“327ZA Interpretation of relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrator (1) For the purposes of section 325, a person (“P”) is a “relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrator” if P has been convicted of a specified offence or an associate offence and meets either the condition in subsection (2)(a) or the condition in subsection (2)(b).(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), the conditions are—(a) P is a relevant serial offender; or(b) a risk of serious harm assessment has identified P as presenting a high or very high risk of serious harm.(3) An offence is a “specified offence” for the purposes of this section if it is a specified domestic abuse offence or a specified stalking offence.(4) In this section—“relevant serial offender” means a person convicted on more than one occasion for the same specified offence, or a person convicted of more than one specified offence;“specified domestic abuse offence” means an offence where it is alleged that the behaviour of the accused amounted to domestic abuse within the meaning defined in section 1 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021;“specified stalking offence” means an offence contrary to section 2A or section 4A of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.(5) Within 12 months of the day on which the Victims and Prisoners Act 2024 is passed the Secretary of State must commission a review into the operation of the provisions of this section.””
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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It is a great pleasure to move Amendment 148A and speak to Amendment 148B. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for their support in this suite of amendments, both of which deal with stalking. They insert two new clauses into the Bill, and they are part of the whole suite of amendments on this.

I will be brief because my noble friend Lady Royall is in the Committee today, and she has been tireless over the years in championing this cause and using every opportunity to find remedies to deal with this pernicious crime, almost always perpetrated by men on women, wrecking lives, sometimes with fatal consequences. These two amendments, and the group following this concerning MAPPS in the name of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, seek to bring further coherence to law enforcement, record sharing and protection for these victims.

If only the police could see stalking for what it truly is—often a stepping stone on the route to murder—perhaps they would take it more seriously. At present, I am afraid they do not—certainly, it is patchy—and stalking victims are dismissed too easily and too often. They are told, “It’s just online. It will die down. Change your number. Delete your social media accounts. It’s just a lovers’ tiff”.

I will give just one example and then sit down. When the Derbyshire police accepted that they failed Gracie Spinks—who was murdered after reporting her stalker to the police—and when they apologised to her family and promised that lessons would be learned, I could almost feel the weariness of victims, their families, the campaigners and the Victims’ Commissioner in saying, “How often do we have to be told that lessons can be learned when they haven’t been?” That is what these amendments and the ones we have already discussed are about: they seek to make a change. I beg to move.

Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait Lord Russell of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, I was happy to put my name to these to these two amendments, and I am equally happy that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, is here. She will go into some current and fairly shocking detail about some recent examples of stalking that show that it is as pernicious and present as ever.

Both of these amendments are proposed in the clear and distinctly uncomfortable knowledge that I think all parties acknowledge: we have some way to go, to put it mildly, before we can say, with any degree of truth, that we have the measure of the huge and insidious problem that is stalking. These amendments propose some changes to MAPPA, including perpetrators in MAPPA, as a condition of potential release and licence, and the creation of a register to make perpetrators subject to notification requirements as a condition of release. The important common theme to both these amendments is the requirement for the Secretary of State to commission reviews to look at the issues and challenges around stalking in a comprehensive and informed manner.

But what is repeatedly and continuously frustrating is that we have proper on-the-ground evidence of approaches to stalking that are proving to be effective. In particular, there is the multi-agency stalking intervention programme—MASIP—which has marked a significant advance in our ability to anticipate, identify and tackle the complex issue of stalking. The MASIP model, thankfully funded by the Home Office, has pioneered this approach in London, Cheshire and Hampshire, and it works. Early evidence is compelling and extremely positive. So one just asks oneself: why is it not possible to do this more widely? The approach co-ordinates activity around both the victim and the perpetrator, and it incorporates an essential pathway to address the fixation and obsession in perpetrators that might be contributing to their stalking offending. The final evaluation proves that it works, so why is it so difficult, first, to acknowledge best practice when it is staring one in the face and, secondly, to implement it more widely?

One frustrating thing—here I refer to an article in today’s newspaper—is some news about the Government’s end-of-custody supervised licence programme, which was introduced in the autumn to relieve some of the huge pressure on our overcrowded jails, enabling perpetrators to be released earlier than their recommended sentence. It was put in as a temporary scheme, but it has apparently now been extended indefinitely. That does not mean for ever; it just means that the Government have given no indication of how long they intend to continue to allow this degree of leniency, the sole reason for which is the huge pressure on our prisons.

The Government rather inelegantly call this the problem of demand and supply in the prison population. If you were to try to explain that terminology to victims, they would find it slightly difficult to understand why supply-side economics should govern the early release of some perpetrators, particularly of domestic abuse and stalking, in many cases without the victims knowing what is going on.

We will make concerted progress only when we acknowledge the complexity of stalking and finally design a proactive and joined-up approach that is implemented consistently across all jurisdictions and agency boundaries and effectively identifies, outlaws and penalises any evidence of the unfairness and madness of what we are allowing today—effectively, a postcode lottery for victims.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, I have signed Amendments 148A and 148B in this group. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for her introduction and look forward to hearing from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. The first amendment sets out an important addition to the arrangements for Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements, or MAPPA. We will hear about the detail of these amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, but I want to add that, throughout this Bill and its predecessors in your Lordships’ House, including the Domestic Abuse Bill and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, we have repeatedly asked for more protection for people who have been victims of serial domestic abuse and, in particular, stalking.

Laura Richards’s ground-breaking work over many years in developing the dashboard profiling and documenting the most serious repeat offenders has changed the way in which specialist police teams view these perpetrators, but—I hesitate to say this for probably the third Bill running—MAPPA are still not applied consistently across police forces. One of the aims of these amendments is to make sure that happens. As we have heard, repeat perpetrators are far too often allowed to commit further crimes, including murder. Shockingly, a couple of years ago police research found that one in 12 domestic rapists was raping outside the home. A violent and controlling man leaving a partner does not mean that the violence ends. Many have extensive histories of abusing multiple women.

Amendment 148A sets out the licence conditions for serial and serious harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators, saying that anyone so identified should be part of a MAPPA. Proposed new subsection (4) sets out the definition of a relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrator. Similarly, the other amendment says that we must have an effective register. Non-domestic stalkers always seem to be left off. I always raise this problem in your Lordships’ House; there is an assumption that stalking is carried out only by a current partner or an ex-partner—or somebody who would like to be a partner and is therefore regarded as domestic—but about 40% of stalking cases have nothing to do with that at all. As we see from many stories in the papers day after day, these days people such as celebrities face massive amounts of stalking and do not get protection. Often, when people are arrested, it appears that they have stalked others as well.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, made passing reference to the Gracie Spinks case. Derbyshire police and the police force that investigated its failings have learned from that, but we need consistency. I will give one recent example from Laura Richards. Last month a victim, Sadie, had been back in contact with her about her living hell over seven years. She is terrified that her ex will kill her children. In 2018 he was arrested for battery of her eight year-old daughter and an assault on her while she was holding her other daughter. He was convicted in 2019 and received a suspended sentence and restraining order. The police did not arrest him for stalking or coercive control. They told her that, because she had moved away, they would not arrest him for stalking and they would amend the restraining order to a lifelong RO. He has repeatedly breached it. As we discussed on earlier amendments, he then started family court proceedings.

I will not go on, except to say that she has had to flee three more times, and each time has hit problems with the new police force. There has been no consistency. He has a history of abusing others—exactly the point I made about police research finding that one in 12 domestic rapists rapes outside the home. This woman has no solution nearby to stop him continuing to behave in this way and mess up her life and those of her children. We need MAPPA to work effectively. These amendments are the first step in that direction.

18:15
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Portrait Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab)
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My Lords, I support Amendments 148A and 148B. I am late to participate in this Bill, for which I apologise, but, as has been said, I am not late to debates on the insidious crime of stalking—a gateway to rape, serious harm and murder in slow motion. I have read the excellent exchanges on earlier amendments to this Bill on stalking.

Stalkers must be put before the courts, and sentences must reflect the seriousness of the crime. When stalkers are released from prison, given the nature of their obsessive and fixated behaviour, stringent measures must be placed on them to close down all opportunities to reoffend. As part of this, they must be automatically managed by MAPPA and included on ViSOR, soon to be MAPPS, so that their information can be shared and accessed nationally.

In the past I have often cited the horrific case of Zoe Dronfield. Jason Smith almost succeeded in murdering her in her home in 2014. He is up again before the Parole Board for release this year. Zoe is terrified for herself and her children. Smith was not rehabilitated 10 years prior to her attack after the horrific abuse of an ex who was a serving West Midlands police officer. He went on to abuse other women until he targeted Zoe. Currently, Zoe knows very little about the release plan. Smith has never admitted trying to kill Zoe, so how can he be deemed safe for release? She does not know whether she is marked at high risk, whether he is still vengeful towards her or whether he will be tagged. No measures have been put in place for her, and she feels like a sitting duck.

How can this be right? He must be added to ViSOR and managed by MAPPA, and every opportunity for his reoffending against Zoe, her children and future women must be closed down. Many stalkers change their name by deed poll. He must not be allowed to do that either. Positive obligations must be placed on him, including not to change his name. I would be grateful for an assurance from the Minister that this case will be looked at so that Zoe does not have to live in fear.

In January there were two horrific cases of stalking by two vengeful men. Thirty year-old Bryce Hodgson was shot by armed officers in Southwark after he broke into the intended victim’s home. He was armed with crossbows, a knife, a hatchet and a sword and was wearing body armour. There was no doubt that he was there to kill the victim, and most likely others if they got in his way—people who might have been trying to protect her. He had already threatened the police. As soon as I heard about this case, I wondered about his background. No one wakes up one day and starts behaving like this in the third decade of life. From everything I have learned about male violence towards women and children, I believed that he would have a history.

Sure enough, it came to light that he was a convicted stalker. He had been convicted of stalking a woman last June and was subject to a five-year restraining order. Croydon Magistrates’ Court heard last year how Hodgson had entered the victim’s bedroom without consent, sent text messages demanding that she open her door to him and described his vivid sexual fantasies to her. He pleaded guilty, but was spared a custodial sentence with a 16-week suspended prison sentence; he was ordered to undergo 12 months of supervision and carry out 120 hours of community service.

He was the most dangerous type of stalker—a predatory stalker with sexual fantasies that he was acting on when he broke into the victim’s bedroom. He was one of the rare few who are arrested and charged but, rather than put him before the court for a Section 4A stalking offence for putting the victim in fear of her life, and despite his being one of the most dangerous types of stalker, the CPS put him before a magistrates’ court on a Section 2A stalking charge. Notwithstanding the wrong charge, he clearly should have been put on a register.

In another case, on 31 January a woman and her two children were attacked by Abdul Ezedi near Clapham Common. He threw a corrosive alkaline substance at the woman, who we now know was in a relationship with the suspect. She was there with her daughters; she suffered what are likely to be life-changing injuries. Five police officers were injured as they responded, as were four members of the public. This attack was targeted, pre-planned and premeditated. Ezedi stalked the victim and intended to cause her maximum distress, pain and suffering when he threw that corrosive substance at her and her two girls. He then picked up the three year-old girl and tried to kill her.

There is always a history. In 2018, Ezedi was convicted of one charge of sexual assault and one of exposure, before being granted asylum in 2020. He received a nine-week jail term, suspended for two years, for this sexual assault and, for the exposure, 36-weeks’ imprisonment to be served consecutively—which was also suspended for two years. Why was he not included on ViSOR? This has been repeatedly raised following countless horrific murders, including those of Jane Clough, Shana Grice, Hollie Gazzard, Alice Ruggles, Janet Scott, Laura Mortimer and her 11 year-old daughter Ella Dalby, and Cheryl Gabriel-Hooper, whose 14 year-old daughter was present when Andrew Hooper shot her mother dead. Hooper had a history of abusing and stalking his ex; he broke into her house in the middle of the night wearing gloves and armed with a knife. He pleaded guilty to affray and received a suspended sentence—this was stalking. Cheryl also reported him to the police for coercively controlling and stalking her and her daughter. The abuse escalated when she finally left him for good.

Separation is the highest risk time for a woman fleeing a coercive controller and stalker. We know from research and analysis of domestic homicides that if a stalker makes a threat—which Hooper did—one in two stalkers acts on that threat; that is 50%. These are the most dangerous of perpetrators, and yet his violent history was not joined up by the police. He should have been on a register, which would mean that they had to check on the perpetrator’s history.

Laura Mortimer and her 11 year-old daughter, Ella Dalby, were stabbed to death in my home city of Gloucester, on 28 May 2018, by Christopher Boon. He had a history of assaulting a previous partner and her mother, in front of two children. He received a suspended sentence for this very serious offence. Boon was a fantasist who was £28,000 in debt, and he coerced Laura into putting her income into his bank account. She reported him to the police. She was too scared to pursue a prosecution but she did ask about his history, using Clare’s law. She was told that it could not be shared, and she was sent away. Days before the murders, Laura learnt that Boon was cheating on her and she told him to leave the house. He escalated his behaviour and stabbed Laura 18 times and her 11 year-old daughter 24 times. Women are not told about these dangerous and violent men’s histories even when they report serious violence and abuse at their hands.

A new database, MAPPS, is being developed, which will replace ViSOR, and we have MAPPA, the public protection panels which police, prison and probation officers, and other agencies attend. Stalkers must be proactively identified, assessed and managed by MAPPA. Stalking experts must attend MAPPA meetings to ensure that these dangerous men are diagnosed, assessed and managed. The same tactics must be applied to serial and dangerous domestic violence perpetrators and stalkers as to organised criminals and sex offenders. Early identification, assessment and management are vital to cut off opportunities for them to cause harm, and to ensure that they face the consequences of their actions.

Currently, the law relies on victims to report the individual crimes, and the police do not flag and tag serial and high-risk perpetrators. Instead, they focus on the victims—and this does not happen with any other crime. Police must index and share information with victims about serial abusers. Each police force must proactively identify 10 to 20 serial and dangerous domestic abusers, ensure that their information is included on the local police intelligence database, and refer cases to MAPPA. Convicted stalkers must be placed on ViSOR. The postcode lottery mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Russell, must end.

I hope the Minister does not refer to guidance, which is so often a response to questions about stalking. I hope we are not told that more lessons need to be learned; too many women have been murdered. We know what needs to be done. We do not need guidance, we need action.

The extraordinary Laura Richards, who has done more than anyone else in the world to try to protect women and their children from stalkers, started a petition to include serial domestic abusers and stalkers on ViSOR and be managed by MAPPA. Some 274,698 people have now signed this petition, including victims, bereaved families and professionals. I ask the Minister: when will the Government act?

Baroness Newlove Portrait Baroness Newlove (Con)
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My Lords, I support these amendments, and I am so glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, is back where she belongs, speaking on a topic that she is so passionate about.

Laura Richards has been mentioned by many speakers, and social media has a good way of reacting: I have her on Instagram as we are speaking, to give me some pointers, even though she is in California. Laura Richards is the expert on all this, and her patience to fight for victims over the years is commendable. She said she knows there is going to be change and she keeps doing it for victims—I admire this lady.

In the year ending March 2022, only 1.4% of reports to police about stalking ended with the stalker being convicted. That says a lot about how seriously stalking is taken by the very agencies that are supposed to protect victims. Most stalkers never see the inside of a prison cell; instead, they receive fines or community or suspended sentences, as has previously been spoken about. Really, for me, it is about listening to the human side of all these cases, and that is what we must never forget. It is not just about lessons learned or guidance. These are not items we pick up from supermarket shelves; these are human lives—people who have been brutally murdered, after several years of absolute hell, by someone who has done it on more than one occasion.

I really want to understand why the Government will not look at this register seriously. I spoke in the Domestic Abuse Bill when that came through. This has to be the end of it all. Instead of guidance, we must have proper risk management of stalkers and domestic abusers because, at the moment, it is virtually non-existent for convicted, or unconvicted, men who pose such a huge risk to women and children—now more than ever, we need to make sure that they feel safe and listened to. These are psychopathic people who do horrendous crimes to humans, and families have to pick up the pieces.

I am concerned about Zoe Dronfield, and I have picked up on certain things that my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, has mentioned. I will take that offline, because I sympathise with not having any control. As somebody who is still going through the criminal justice and parole system, I am very interested in the next stage of the Bill, which is about parole, and what it does and does not do. The victim has no control, or right to know what the offender is doing. We cannot find out what is going on, but the offender knows exactly where the victim is, because of exclusion zones and everything else. I do not speak for anyone else but as a victim who is watching out, for my three daughters, for offenders who are going to be released. When we are talking about stalking laws, this is important, because having no control more or less means that the victim has to shape their life around safety, whereas the system should protect victims more than ever.

Lord Roborough Portrait Lord Roborough (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for her amendment relating to Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements, and all noble Lords who have contributed to this heartfelt debate. These are horrific offences, taken with the utmost gravity by the Government.

Amendment 148A seeks to include relevant domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators on licence within the remit of management under Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements—MAPPA. That would create a legal requirement on the police and the Prison and Probation Service to assess and manage the risks posed by individuals whose offending has taken place in the context of domestic abuse or stalking, and who either have more than one conviction of this nature or are assessed as posing a high risk of serious harm.

Amendment 148B seeks to make amendments to the Sexual Offences Act 2003, imposing on domestic abuse and stalking offenders the same requirements that apply to registered sex offenders. This would require the offender to report personal information to the police, including where they are living, their bank account details and passport details.

The Government agree that robust management of perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking is crucial to help keep the public safe. We completely agree with the spirit of these amendments; however, we believe the objectives can already be met through current provision and policy.

18:30
On Amendment 148A, there is already existing legislation where individuals who are convicted of specified violent offences and sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment or more are automatically eligible for management under MAPPA category 2. These offences include domestic abuse related offences such as threats to kill, actual and grievous bodily harm, attempted strangulation, as well as stalking including fear of violence. The list is kept under review; for example, in recognition of the seriousness of the offence, we are legislating in the Criminal Justice Bill to ensure that offenders convicted of controlling or coercive behaviour will be automatically managed under MAPPA.
Noble Lords may question why all perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking cannot be managed under MAPPA. We need to ensure that the MAPPA framework, and the resources of the police, prison and probation services under the framework, focus on the most serious perpetrators, thereby ensuring that resources are targeted at those who pose the greatest risk. As committed to during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act, we strengthened the Secretary of State for Justice’s statutory MAPPA guidance to include a chapter dedicated to domestic abuse and stalking. It mandates that all domestic abuse and stalking offenders who do not qualify for automatic MAPPA management must be considered for discretionary management known as category 3.
The Government have also worked with MAPPA agencies to improve practice, including the publication of a thresholding document to assist practitioners making the decisions. I can report that we have since seen a steady increase in category 3 management, with a rise of 37% in the last reporting year. We will continue to monitor the numbers of discretionary cases via the published MAPPA annual reports and to work with MAPPA agencies to develop practice in this area.
On the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, to be automatically eligible for management under MAPPA, there must be a conviction for a sexual, violent or terrorist offence, and the individual must either be subject to notification requirements under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 or be serving a sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment or more. MAPPA management is available for only those perpetrators who have been convicted of or cautioned for an offence. Where the sentence is shorter but there is concern about the risk posed, a perpetrator can be managed under MAPPA on a discretionary basis. We have strengthened statutory guidance—I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall—to clarify that MAPPA management should be considered in all domestic abuse and stalking cases. Successive annual statistics indicate a rise in the number of discretionary cases, and the majority of the 42 MAPPA areas in England and Wales report an increase in the number of cases of domestic abuse managed under MAPPA.
On Amendment 148B, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, the Government believe there are already provisions in place that will allow for information on perpetrators to be collected and used to manage risk. All individuals released on licence are subject to standard conditions for the duration of their sentence which include the requirement for perpetrators to inform their probation officer of any change of name and contact details, and to stay only at an address approved by their probation officer. There are numerous additional licence conditions which can be imposed to address specific risk factors. Breach of a licence condition can result in the individual being recalled to custody.
For individuals who are not subject to licence supervision, noble Lords may be aware that the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 introduced provisions for domestic abuse protection orders. These orders—which will be piloted in the spring—will allow for notification requirements to be imposed on perpetrators, of which breach will be a criminal offence. Domestic abuse protection orders are a civil order and can be imposed without a conviction, providing an opportunity to protect a greater range of victims than the proposed amendment. Piloting will allow us to evaluate and test the effectiveness and impact of the new model ahead of an expected national rollout.
Similarly, we introduced stalking protection orders—SPOs—through the Stalking Protection Act 2019 which can impose any prohibition or requirements that the court considers necessary and also impose notification requirements. Breach of both domestic abuse protection orders and stalking protection orders can result in up to five years’ imprisonment.
On another point made by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, we agree that the implementation of measures to protect victims from harm should be reviewed to ensure they are fit for purpose. That is why we have committed to fund an external evaluation partner throughout the duration of the DAPN and DAPO pilot before taking a decision on rolling it out nationally and will continue to monitor the use and application of SPOs. We are aware that the police super-complaint submitted by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust on behalf of the National Stalking Consortium includes SPOs. We will take into consideration any findings and recommendations made by the investigating bodies when they report this year.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, made some points about stalking protection orders and their enforcement. Some police forces, such as the Met, have been making excellent use of the new stalking protection orders we introduced in 2020. Others have applied for fewer than might have been expected. The VAWG strategy confirms the Home Office will work with the police to ensure all police forces make proper use of stalking protection orders. Among other actions, in October 2021, the then-Safeguarding Minister Rachel Maclean MP wrote to all chief constables whose forces applied for fewer orders than might have been expected to encourage them to always consider applying for them. In February 2023, the former Safeguarding Minister, Sarah Dines MP, did the same.
In answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Russell, on MASIP, I am afraid I am unfamiliar with the programme and suggest a meeting to discuss further whether there is more the Government can learn from it.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, and my noble friend Lady Newlove, I am afraid I cannot comment on individual cases. However, I am happy to arrange a meeting to discuss them in private.
On the implementation of stalking protection orders, data from HM Courts & Tribunals Service shows that in their first 23 full months—February 2020 to December 2021—almost 1,000 interim and full SPOs were issued. The number issued rose by 31% between February and December 2020 and the equivalent period in 2021.
For these reasons, the Government feel that the aims of the amendments are already met through existing provisions, and I therefore urge the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendments.
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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Why does the Minister think we tabled these amendments?